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#Sundance2023 Review: When It Melts

January 21, 2023

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The directorial debut of Belgian actress Veerle Baetens (The Broken Circle Breakdown), When It Melts is an adaptation of author Lize Spit’s book Het Smelt that explores childhood trauma through the eyes of a young woman finally confronting her past. Beatens takes an unflinching and provocative approach to bringing the challenging material to the screen, with mostly engaging but also somewhat mixed results.

Eva (played by Charlotte De Bruyne) is a young woman in Belgium who is still struggling to move past the events of the summer when she was thirteen and things spiralled out of control. The film starts with her loading a big block of ice into the back of her car, and driving back to her hometown. We then switch back and forth between present day scenes and flashbacks to that fateful summer, slowly revealing how Eva (played as a child by Rosa Marchant) got sucked into playing an ongoing and highly inappropriate game with her male friends involving local girls and a hard to solve riddle.

With the block of ice as metaphor, When It Melts is somewhat of a slow-burn. It unfolds as a very dark mix of coming-of-age drama that has elements of a revenge thriller, with a bit of a central mystery to it. The film does have a pretty good hook, and Baetens (who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay) does a decent job of keeping us engaged for a good chunk of the running time as more details are revealed and the sense of dread ratchets up. But the bleakness of the material, and the uncompromising depiction of some genuinely disturbing moments involving children, makes it an incredibly tough film to watch.

While in this case depiction very obviously does not equal endorsement, When It Melts also makes the cardinal mistake of showing too much, with one gruelling flashback scene in particular that goes on way longer than it needs to. It was filmed with a therapist on set, but still borders on feeling exploitative. The film features good performances, with Marchant especially leaving her mark in a difficult role, and has a decent sense of tension running through it. But this is an emotionally draining exploration of childhood trauma that also feels like it tips a balance after a certain point and never quite comes back from it, as hard to shake as parts of it are.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival runs from January 19th to 29th in Park City, Utah, with in-person and online screenings. More information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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