A father and son live in a house attached to a cliff. Every day, they make and harvest ice, parachuting off their deck to sell it in the village far below. When they return, they make more ice and wait for it to freeze.
It’s repetitive work, and yet the routine also seems to keep them focused on something other than a loss—an absence, The New Yorker notes, that’s “symbolized by a yellow mug, one that is never used but often contemplated.”
Though the 14-minute metaphorical story climaxes with an intense moment of peril, fear, and sadness, “the film dives into the magical and the sublime” in a conclusion that honors their resilience, love, and family connection.
Ice Merchants is a wordless animated short by Portuguese director João Gonzalez, who also wrote the film’s original score. A prize-winner at Cannes’ Critics’ Week, the film was nominated for an Academy Award.
In an interview with Deadline, which includes a sort of spoiler, Gonzalez explains:
“I started doing animation relatively recently, and when I started this film two or three years ago I was still not very comfortable drawing hair on characters. So, all of my characters… had a hat or a beanie mainly for aesthetic purposes. But it all changes in that pre-production phase when I’m constructing the world and when I’m imagining how those characters would live every day. And when I’m constructing it, I’m thinking that maybe they parachute every time to sell their ice.”
“And the more I thought about it, the wind would make them lose their hats. Initially it was just a funny, surrealistic thing, like those silly rituals that we have with our close ones at home. They lose all their hats, but then they buy it the next day like a running joke. But the more that I thought about it, maybe the hats will pile up eventually and maybe they’ll make a good solution for the ending.”
Watch this next: The Last Ice Merchant (El Último Hielero).
Plus, more powerful storytelling on TKSST:
• Father and Daughter by Michaël Dudok De Wit
• Threads, an animated short by Torill Kove
• Way of Giants (Caminho dos Gigantes), a wordless animation about the circle of life
This Webby award-winning video collection exists to help teachers, librarians, and families spark kid wonder and curiosity. TKSST features smarter, more meaningful content than what's usually served up by YouTube's algorithms, and amplifies the creators who make that content.
Curated, kid-friendly, independently-published. Support this mission by becoming a sustaining member today.