“The Icicle Thief” pokes fun at both the hyper-pathos of the neo-realists and the indifferent extravagance of modern society, by the use of several elements of postmodernism. Nichetti has created a neo-neo-realist film, in which postmodernism challenges the boundaries between genres, art forms and the mass media, in many cases by mixing these genres. The postmodern nature of the film supports the dispensation of elements of naturalism, seriousness, articulated symbolism, logic and homogeneity in montage, and sentimentalism to arrive at apparently depth-free assemblages of images that delineate the disjunctions of the world it represents.
The distinction between reality and fiction (simulation) is undermined, or satirized by the use of irony as a primary mode of expression. However, abuse, installation and subversion of conventions usually negotiates contradictions as can be seen in “The Icicle Thief”. Postmodernism opposes central control, portrayed by Maurizio Nichetti’s lack of control of his own movie and environment, when he is invited by a local network to introduce his newest release, called “The Icicle Thief”, in which he plays a director whose name is also Maurizio Nichetti.
The director, (apparently unacquainted with the ways of TV), becomes enraged when he realises that his work is to be punctuated with advertisements. Nichetti mocks the commercialism of television, its lack of discrimination, its non-existent values and the worthlessness of the products it glorifies (chocolate, artichoke aperitif, soap). “The Icicle Thief” emphasises the co modification of reality in terms of things that had no relation to capitalism, becoming objects to be bought and sold as products.
Francesco, son of the television viewing family, constructs with his Lego blocks, a facsimile of the Kremlin or a Russian church: simultaneous symbol of communism and Christianity, the two most visible alternatives to the pure self-interest of late capitalism. A power failure takes place after which characters from the movie suddenly show up in advertisements and vice versa; context and commercials become one, affecting Nichetti’s “desired script”.
This crossing of boundaries is initiated when an English-speaking model from a colour advertisement dives into a swimming pool only to surface near the banks of a river in the black and white, “Icicle Thief”. Antonio Piermattei, Nichetti’s “constructed” protagonist, rescues Heidi (the model) and dries her off with his coat, in a scene when she turns from colour to black and white serving as a technically startling moment.
It is the absurd juxtaposition of screening films on a commercial television dominated by Americana, as those commercials disastrously corrupt the story and demolish its continuity, which provides the central action in the film. Producers of television advertisements demean classic film and highbrow culture as is evident in the detergent advertisement when the song of Carmen is used. Cinema canonization and the clash between high and low culture is satirised by Nichetti.
“The Icicle Thief” also makes fun of “reality” by the portrayal of the consumerist, nuclear family watching television, importing them into the world of the 1940’s. Nichetti’s film is partly then, about the impossibility of representing contemporary realities in terms of forties conventions. The pregnant mother is portrayed as a modernist viewer since she prefers not to know the story ahead of time and thus mutes the studio discussion of the film, silencing a critical as opposed to naive viewing potential.
Through “Big Brother” reverse televisual mediation, Bruno sees Francesco eating a Big Big bar and wants one, rather than cabbage. Bruno begins to sing the catchy tune of the advertisement for the chocolate bar, perhaps the climax of the film, emphasizing the austere forties and the booming eighties as a decade of marketing, colliding in an irony of commercialism. When Bruno and Maria return from the commercial world of the “quick fix” to the “more serious tasks of life”, they do so with trolleys full of commercial goods with indifference to the director present.
“The Icicle Thief” is less about “real” people than it is about itself. Through self-reflexivity or meta-fiction Nichetti makes fun of the forties movie by parodying its more melodramatic aspects (Maria trying to drown herself) and less realistic moments through lack of continuity when Bruno goes into the other room to change out of his smart clothes and bowtie and emerges not only in his old clothes, but also with a dirty face, as well as Nichetti’s own involvement as a director of the film within his film.
In the postmodernist view, parody is accepted since the attempt at being original, is seen as impossible in contrast to the modernist striving towards originality. “The Icicle Thief” emphasises a contrast also between postmodernism and modernism by means of ontology, the concern with what world I am in, as opposed to earlier modernists concern with epistemology, how to get at truth.