The Ice Rink follows the efforts of a director (Tom Novembre) to create a romantic comedy set in an ice-skating rink. The film the director tries to make, titled Dolores, runs into instant trouble when it is clear much of the cast and crew are unable to skate. Also, the vain stars (Dolors Chaplin and American Bruce Campbell) interrupt filming to carry on a torrid affair; the supporting players, a Lithuanian hockey team, cannot speak French; and the ice melts under the klieg lights.

After an accident puts him briefly out of commission, the director somehow finishes the picture, just in time for the anxious producer (Marie-France Pisier) to rush a print to the ailing judge of the Venice Film Festival, a contest the producer desperately hopes to enter.

In addition to Truffaut's 1973 feature Day for Night, The Ice Rink quotes the pantomime comedy of Chaplin and Tati, with several sequences that derive humor out of physical mishaps, in particular the players' awkward negotiation of the ice surface. Apart from the famous roller-skating scenes from City Lights, Chaplin is honored by the casting of his granddaughter as the leading lady. (French cinema is honored by the casting of Jean-Pierre Cassel, playing the rink's manager.)

Some of the industry jokes may be too 'inside' for general audiences, but are funny nonetheless. The best sequences include the director's repeated attempts to artificially create an 'eye-line' match between the hero and the heroine (who is replaced by a water jug!), and the editor's last-minute deletion of a scene while she flies aboard the plane delivering the 'finished' film to the festival. The most joyous and unexpected bit-a throwback to early Godard-features the film crew breaking out in a rock number on the ice between takes.

If only Jean Philippe Toussaint's comedy featured more such free-spirited moments. The film is consistently lighthearted and amusing, but rarely takes full advantage of its setting or subject matter. The sketchy subplots-a documentary crew's busy coverage of the production, a love triangle among the two stars and the director, a Ginger and Fred-style reunion between the film's backer and his former skating co-star-barely develop before being dropped. The denouement, set in Cinecittà Studios, gets little humor out of the grandiosity of the spectacular location.

Closer to Tom DiCillo's trifle Living in Oblivion than Truffaut's genuine classic film about film, The Ice Rink taps a rich genre tradition but ends up a lighter-than-air cream puff.

--Eric Monder