European Union Film Festival: Hot Hot Hot camps up sauna life

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Hot Hot Hot

Starring Rob Stanley and Joanna Scanlan.

Poor Ferdinand. Things literally get Hot Hot Hot for the bashful, repressed aquarium staffer in this English-language feature debut (a Luxembourg-Belgium-Austria coproduction) by director Beryl Koltz. When renovations temporarily close Fish Land where Ferdinand (Rob Stanley) works, he gets transferred to another location in the Worlds Apart theme park: Finnish-Turkish Delight, a spa replete with saunas, pools...and plenty of nudity.

While that may seem like a sexy and luxurious change of pace, that's not the case for the apprehensive Ferdinand. More at ease with fish than with people (or sexuality), the meek middle-aged man flounders amidst the mix of strong, colourful personalities in the realm of relaxation.

Things take a turn for the better, however, when the spa's self-absorbed, overbearing boss, Knut (overplayed by Gary Cady)—and his taste for tacky music—goes on paternity leave. The absence of Knut's oppressive presence allows the staff, particularly Ferdinand, a chance to unwind and even blossom.

Unfortunately, Ferdinand's inept social skills and inexperience with the opposite sex contribute to a series of complications with almost all of his female coworkers (all well-performed by a solid cast): there's Isadora (Amber Doyle), whom he catches snapping shots of naked men showering; the pragmatic, self-assured Mary-Ann (Joanna Scanlan), who develops sympathies toward Ferdinand; and the gold-hearted Ling (Wendy Kweh), a blind massage therapist who helps Ferdinand slowly emerge from his shell.

Ferdinand's overactive imagination provides an array of fantasy sequences, and Koltz infuses this sweet, stylized late-coming-of-age story with a campy sensibility, albeit with mixed results. While the subject matter may appear to promise titillation, a wide variety of body types and story elements reinforce the theme of accepting one's self, flaws and all. As Ferdinand ever-so-slowly learns, there are some things you have to let go of in order to accept what life has to offer.

Hot Hot Hot screens at the Cinematheque on Sunday (December 6) at 6:30 p.m. as part of the European Union Film Festival.

You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.

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