Sunday, February 26, 2023

Free Skate: Movie Review

Slow and dark, a story of trauma, abuse and perseverance.
Left for dead on the side of a Finland highway after fleeing Russia, a young elite figure skater is trying to start a new life with her grandmother and a skating rink in Finland. That’s how Free Skate starts. It’s a slow, dark, trauma-filled exploration of life in the figure skating world, and that’s before we even get into the darker more trauma-filled story that the movie eventually tells.   2022

Directed by: Roope Olenius

Screenplay by: Veera W. Vilo

Starring: Veera W. Vilo

We can take a few guesses as to what sort of life she was living in Russia. And at the beginning, that’s apparently what the movie wants you to do. It’s the type of movie that revels in providing the audience with as little information as possible. There are flashback scenes and imaginary sequences taking place in her head that have little separation from the current reality. As the movie gets going and once we’re in the second half, it becomes much easier to separate reality from fear, but to say this is a difficult movie to get into is an understatement.

This is a very stark movie; there’s no score, minimal set design, and no life outside of an empty rink and a lonely house. The starkness though fits the story, and her new life. It also fits the really striking cinematography: cold walks alone at night, street lights illuminating the pure white snow against the pitch black night. You can feel the coldness of northern Finland come through the screen.

The exceedingly slow first half features our nameless protagonist trying to fit into her new skating club. It also features the ‘usual trauma’ the common abuse expected in sports like figure skating where the coaches are constantly telling the young athletes that they’re too fat and not good enough. It’s a sad state of our society that this is the boring abuse and that the movie needs to introduce a more significant trauma to be able to have a worthwhile story to tell. And indeed it does.

The movie is based on the lead actress and writer Veera W. Vilo’s personal story. I’d like to avoid spoilers, but the movie becomes a darker, scary story of trauma and abuse. The reason the filmmakers have chosen to keep all characters nameless is to show how universal this is; how the lead protagonist and her fellow skaters could be anybody.

As already mentioned, there’s some nice (but lonely) cinematography that fits the movie, same with the skating. Although it’s not clear until the end, the progression of her routine fits the story. For those who like figure skating, that part definitely helps to get through the movie.

Free Skate is slow and dark, very difficult to get into, but once the whole story is illuminated, it becomes an impressive story of perseverance and over-coming trauma.