Icy Breasts Blu-ray Review: A Cool French Noir

I am a collector, a list maker, and a spreadsheet creator. There is something so satisfying about making a list of all the books you own. Or DVDs. Or albums. Or anything, really. I’ve gotten to where I make lists within lists, tabs within my spreadsheet. That way I can drill down and see how many Blu-rays I own as compared to regular DVDs and which ones are from the Criterion Collection, or Kino Lorber. I like to run it the other way too, where I’ll make a list of something like all the Classic Doctor Who stories and then tick off which ones I own so that I can see which ones I’m missing. Half the fun of collecting things is making lists so you can categorize them.

Since 2007, I’ve kept a list of all the movies I’ve watched. Recently, I’ve gotten into Letterboxd, the website about movies. It is a treasure for listmakers like me. Not only can you make your own lists, and browse and save the lists of other people, but it automatically lets you look at a wide variety of data. With the click of the mouse, I can see how many films from 1930s I’ve watched this year (10) or which director I’ve seen the most films from (Alfred Hitchock, 37 films). One of the things I love doing is clicking on an actor or director, or whatever, and seeing how many films of theirs I’ve watched and how many films I haven’t seen. Then the fun thing to do is try to watch them all.

Recently, The Criterion Channel did a thing with French actor Alain Delon. I’d seen a couple of his films from Jean-Pierre Melville and I figured this was a good opportunity to watch a few more. I’ve come to really like him. He reminds me of George Clooney in that he’s impossibly handsome, and has a somewhat limited range. Also like Clooney, he seemed to understand his range and took on films that fit perfectly into it. Letterboxd says I’ve now seen 8% of the 118 films he made as an actor so I’ve still got a long way to go.

I was pretty excited to see Kino Lorber putting out Icy Breasts out on Blu-ray. For those of you wondering if that title is some terrible English translation from the French, the answer is no. I have conferred with my French-speaking wife and can tell you it is a pretty literal translation of the French title (Les seins de glace). It is a play on saints de glace or the ice saints, three Catholic saints whose feast days fall May 11-13. In parts of Europe, those days are supposed to be unusually cold. Or at least the saints are blamed for cold weather during that period. As we’ll soon see, one of the characters is what we might call an “icy blonde” so I suppose the title fits. The book by Richard Matheson (the only of his books to get a French cinematic adaptation) is called Someone is Bleeding but I guess that was too on the nose for the French.

But enough of that, I’m nearly 500 words into this review and I’ve hardly said a one about the actual film. It is a good one. A cool mystery from the mid-1970s that plays like a classic noir than something more modern.

Claude Brasseur plays François Rollin, a TV writer working on an episode of a mystery series. He begins writing about a beautiful woman walking alone on a beach in the middle of winter. A few pages in and he gets blocked, so he takes a stroll. Along the way, he sees Peggy (Mireille Darc), a beautiful woman walking alone on a beach. It is the middle of winter. Just like his story. He runs to out to tell her. She’s unimpressed. But he’s not intimidating and funny so she lets him walk along beside her. Then she gets into her car and drives away.

Smitten, he looks for her every day around the beach. One day, he spies her and jumps into her car. She asks him to get out but he refuses. He isn’t threatening, and again, he’s humorous, so she lets him drive around with her for a bit. Then she pulls over and asks him to leave. He feigns heartbreak. He declares he’ll fall down in the gutter and die. Instead, he jumps in front of her car and lays down.

She puts it in reverse and drives away. Then she reconsiders and writes her phone number on the windshield with lipstick. They become friends. Every once in a while, he’ll put his arm around her or lean in for a kiss, but she always pulls back. At one point she says to him, “What I like about you is that you use humor, not hands.” That line tells you everything.

When he drops by her house, he always finds a strange man hanging about. He’s guarding her. She says she feels like a prisoner. Once a man pulls up to his house and says that Peggy wants to see him. Instead, he’s taken to a large mansion where he meets Marc Rilson (Alain Delon), who says he is Peggy’s lawyer. He tells a story about how Peggy became addicted to drugs and murdered her last husband and was sent to an insane asylum. She’s better now but under constant surveillance. Marc’s brother says that Marc is actually in love with Peggy and wants to marry her. Then Marc’s wife shows up looking concerned.

It all plays out like some old murder mystery. Rollin even says something along those lines. The story is like something he would have written. Peggy and Rollin are followed. Someone is stalking her. There is a murder. Who is on who’s side? Is Peggy crazy or paranoid, or are people really after her?

The film reminded me a lot of one of those old Columbo episodes, except without the great Peter Falk, There is a police presence but it is minimal. But do you remember how those Columbo shows would just ramble around for a while? There would be a couple of characters we’ve never met before going about their lives. Eventually, we’d learn they were plotting to kill someone and then the deed would happen. But sometimes it would be half an hour before Columbo actually showed up. Characters in Icy Breasts do the same. The film wanders about for a bit before anything happens, and once it does it never gets too exciting.

I liked it a lot. It isn’t as good as the classic noirs like The Maltese Falcon or The Third Man, or some of the better, later neo-noirs like Le Samourai (which also starred Delon) or Klute. It isn’t particularly stylish or even all that memorable, but it is well done and enjoyable while you’re watching it. Just like Columbo. I’ve watched quite a bit of that show during the pandemic, but I couldn’t really tell you the details of any one story, yet I love it just the same. I won’t remember anything about Icy Breasts a week from now, but when I put it on again in a year or two, I’ll once again be more than pleasantly surprised.

Claude Brasseur is great. He isn’t your typical leading man. He isn’t matinee-idol handsome, and lined up against Alain Delon he looks schlubby (although to be fair lined up against Alain Delon pretty much everyone looks a little schlubby). But he’s got charm and charisma. He’s funny and interesting. Delon is his usual icy cold. His face shows no emotion while his eyes are always plotting. Honestly, Mireille Darc isn’t great. She doesn’t have the looks for a character who immediately gets every man to worship her. She’s not helped by that 1970s hairdo and dress. It is a hard role to get right because she’s not the classic femme fatale. She’s more vulnerable than that. She has to toe the line between standoffish but sexy and wounded and possibly crazy. She’s not bad but her performance doesn’t suck me in.

Icy Breasts works because it isn’t overly flashy. It isn’t a film that makes you run to your movie blog site and rave about it, but it gets the job done. We need more well-made thrillers like this one. We definitely need more Alain Delon on Blu-ray.

Extras include a 4K restoration from the original camera negative; an audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson; and some trailers for other new releases from Kino Lorber.

Posted in ,

Mat Brewster

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter