Pantomime is an art form that goes back millennia—long before the proliferation of obnoxious street beggars in clown makeup—and it's an art that eludes a lot of people, since it has the trappings of comedy, but isn't always pushing for laughs. L'Iceberg's director trio Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy all come from circus backgrounds, and their film is, in essence, a string of sight gags, not all of which are comic. Gordon stars as a restaurant manager who accidentally spends a night locked in her walk-in freezer, and develops a taste for cold that sends her on a trek north to find a real iceberg. Her husband Abel chases after her, trying to get her to come back home to their boxy Brussels suburb, but by the time he arrives, she's in the arms of deaf sailor Philippe Martz, on her way out to sea.
L'Iceberg is more quirky than funny, but it has a few scenes worthy of Jacques Tati or Frank Tashlin. In one, Gordon stows away in a delivery truck full of illegal immigrants, and when they're pulled over by the cops, she stands in a chalked-out box labeled "Yes," while her fellow passengers huddle in a box labeled "No." In another, she attempts to change clothes on a frosty beach while an old woman holds up a skimpy towel to block the view of a turtle-paced jogger, whose route keeps subtly changing as the towel keeps gradually moving.
Just like Tati, the Abel/Gordon/Romy team is beholden to a pantomime tradition that's fascinated with explaining human behavior through observation and exaggeration. So we get a moment in L'Iceberg where Abel yaws for a full minute, and later, fight scenes that are all rubbery poses and very little contact. The problem with this kind of exaggeration is that it can supplant real empathy, and sure enough, L'Iceberg gets increasingly inscrutable, devoid of any emotional connection to the whimsical stick figures at its center. The film is striking and often charming, and any movie that places three tall, lanky types aboard a miniature boat named "Titanique" can't be slammed too much. But in the end, it's easier to admire than to love.