Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
It is an ancient Japanese tradition to pay homage to one's ancestors. It is a modern Japanese tradition to fly to Hawaii for golf. The hero of “Cold Fever,” a Tokyo businessman named Atsushi, is preparing for a golf holiday in the islands when he is shamed by a relative into changing his plans. Instead, he will fly to Iceland, where his parents were drowned in a river some years before.
So begins an odd and beautiful film about a pilgrimage to a desolate land, gripped by winter and inhabited by people whose customs are a mystery not only to the visitor from Japan, but to us. Early in the film, Atsushi (Masatoshi Nagase) is in an airport cab that stops so the driver can visit an isolated farmhouse. The visitor waits in the cab as long as he can bear it, and then peeks inside, where a roomful of Icelanders are performing a ritual with sheep and weird musical instruments. What are they doing? We do not have the slightest idea.
Atsushi presses on. He is ill-prepared for a journey in this frigid land, where the sun is a brief finger drawn between the dawn and the dusk. He comes into the possession of a dubious car, an exhausted Citroen, and sets off down roads with alarming signs asking, “Does anyone know you are going this way?” Why his parents chose this landscape as a holiday destination is a question not answered.
But the film finds humor and beauty in its odyssey. It takes the classic form of the road movie and populates it with improbable wanderers in the snow. A woman, for example, who “collects funerals,” and photographs them all over the world. An American couple (Lili Taylor and Fisher Stevens) who hitchhike with him, and continue the quarrel their marriage seems to be based on. And an Icelander who repairs cars by singing at them.