Not even our current 90-degree days with seemingly 100% humidity can take the chill out of air while you’re watching “Centigrade.” The film, based on real events, depicts a young couple traveling in Norway to promote the wife’s new book. On their way to the book signing, they hit an ice storm on a treacherous mountain road. Pulling over, and arguing about whether or not to do so, the couple falls asleep only to awaken to be encased in their car, frozen and buried beneath the blizzard that followed the ice. With limited resources, the couple must survive an indeterminate amount of time and be saved or save themselves.
The first scene is a claustrophobic one, panic setting in to both the characters and the viewer, as the couple awakens from their slumber, realizing the dire situation. Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez), is rather unlikeable immediately as her treatment toward hubby Matt (Vincent Piazza), a sweet and supportive partner, isn’t kind. Both characters look at the situation differently as they assess their environment and food and water resources. The hours and days tick by and tempers flare giving insight into the emotional baggage they both carry. With the additional knowledge that Naomi is pregnant, water is scarce, and the temperatures falling precipitously, the stakes are raised considerably for all of them.
“Centigrade” captures not just the environment, but the feeling of being in this car. We feel trapped and panicked watching events unfold. We feel the bitter cold slicing through the layers of clothes unsure as to what we would do if in a similar position. This feeling of empathy is no easy task when filming in one isolated and cramped location, but “Centigrade” uses this as a solid foundation for the characters to build and ultimately complete the story.
To make this story believable, both Naomi and Matt have to be authentic in their portrayals—and Rodriguez and Piazza find a way to deliver exactly that look of authenticity. Neither portray themselves as perfect. They are flawed. They have secrets and issues that come to a head. (Imagine being trapped in a car with YOUR significant other!) There’s no real time to subtly introduce our main characters; it’s a crash course and both actors know this. We pick up in the middle of their lives and their history.
Interestingly, we initially regard Rodriguez’ character with disdain. She is unapologetic with this aspect, but it is exactly that choice that makes her real. Over time, we see that Matt has his own issues and Piazza’s nuances and more subtle overtones allow us to see him for who he really is. Polar opposites in many ways, they fit together. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions, lashing out at one another, comforting one another, and sacrificing for each other. Their conversations, all pertinent to developing our understanding of each of the characters and their psychological reasoning for decision-making, pushes this story forward with the intensity of an avalanche. The deft direction and attention to every detail because with just one setting, details count, guides the two characters along their path with the precision of a surgeon. Details such as the candy wrappers, the empty water bottles, the layers of clothing and the hashmarks on the dashboard to count the days punctuate the emotional turmoil Naomi and Matt are facing. Of course, the contortionist-like cinematography brings you inside the car to experience the candid dialogue and we become a fly on the wall to witness each minute, hour, and day. While the time passes by, thanks to great editing, it never feels like we are watching the hands of the clock.
As the is film based on a true story, you may already know how it ends, but that does not take away the thrill and the chill of it. Its bitter rawness is terrifying but the connection with the characters makes this a film from which you just can’t look away. Incredible and at times inconceivable cinematography, succinct direction and dialogue, and authentic performances makes this a film you won’t want to miss. And you’ll likely keep a few more stocked items in your car next winter!
Stream this on Amazon Prime/IFC