These days its amazing that filmmakers are still able to invent new ways to tell stories, especially those centering on humanity and its reactions to grief and parental protection. Portuguese director, animator, and illustrator João Gonzalez’s beautiful and emotionally devastating animated short film Ice Merchants, combines the two to create a truly remarkable cinematic triumph full of feeling and modernity.
On a daily basis, a father and his son skydive from their steep home, attached to a snow-bound cliff, to a village below to deliver ice to its citizens to make ends meet. They are able to to do safely and without any damage. One day, temperatures rise and ruins their ice making and causes a riff to their usual deliveries. To make matters more dire, the snow starts melting and falls on their house, causing it to collapse. Having to make a choice between going down with the house or jumping to their death, the father decides to jump. As they’re falling to their impending doom, a woman appears and hugs both the father and son, and opens up a parachute. Afterwards, they wake up in a pile of hats, which break their fall. They’re able to live another day, but they also have a newfound hope despite losing their home.
I was hypnotized from beginning to end from this powerful and dialogue-free film. There’s a definite sadness to it, considering that the woman who appears to save the father and son is not just their guardian angel, but in fact the man’s dead wife, which makes it even more heartbreaking. If you pay attention to clues, especially with the son holding a yellow coffee cup and later a pile of their hats (including a yellow one), you realize that there is one person missing from all of this. However, her presence is definitely felt.
It also captures the mundanity of everyday tasks, where the father and son have to make ice and deliver it constantly, without actually saving any for themselves. You can also say that it deals with the affects of climate change (the snow falling and damaging the house) and the actual benefits of littering (the pile of hats cushioning their fall).
You’ll probably ask why are the father and son living in a house attached to a cliff? Why does the father risks his son’s life to skydive? Why couldn’t they just live in a house near the village safely on land? But, if you don’t overthink it or be literal about it, and just the let the storytelling, visuals, and sheer poignancy wash over you, you will be instantly moved, perhaps to tears. You’ll also be amazed that an almost 15-minute short film can say so much about life, love, and trying to let go. It’s a heartrending winner that is unsurprisingly nominated for an Oscar.