Category Archives: Iceland

101 Reykjavik (2000)

 Icelandic tale of layabout’s woes

In the amusing film, 101 Reykjavik Hlynur is a 30-ish male still living at home with his single mum. Hlynur is happily unemployed and would much rather not think about getting a job. He spends his evenings down at the local pub, parties a great deal with his strange friends, and basically slides away from any sort of commitment. Hlynur also has some sexual problems–but this does not discourage a rather determined girl who pursues him in spite of his low interest.

101Hlynur obviously has some serious problems. His life is an existence–a substitution for the real thing. He even expresses a desire to watch fireworks from the television set rather than from his own balcony. Hlynur’s life begins to change when his mum brings home Lola (a Spanish Flamenco teacher) for the Christmas holidays. When Hlynur’s mum leaves, Lola and Hlynur are thrown together, and after a night of heavy drinking, well….one thing leads to another. Unfortunately, Lola is a lesbian–and she’s Hlynur’s mother’s lover. This creates an odd love triangle and a moral dilemma for Hlynur.

The film was really at its rather original best with the character of Hlynur. He is simultaneously interesting, infuriating, and amusing. Some of the scenes at the parties, the annual family Christmas reunion, and in the pub were very witty–and the narration from Hlynur as he describes the flesh market community in the pub is nothing less than brilliant. The originality and sharp wit of these scenes really made me want to read the book the film is based on. Also the cinematography was marvellous–the stark beauty of Iceland was conveyed in its harsh climate and unforgiving landscape. I haven’t seen many films set in Iceland, and just the photography alone made the film worth watching. The climate is part of the culture–the implication is inescapable.

Victoria Abril is one of my favourite actresses, but this was not her best role. In many ways she was simply a caricature of the passionate, free-spirited lesbian, and the character of Lola was rather flat. This was a bit problematic as Lola is the catalyst for change in this film. However, 101 Reykjavik is quite entertaining and a pleasant discovery. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur.

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Noi (2003)

“Your lack of discipline and respect for this institution is appalling.”

If you are interested in Icelandic film, then add “Noi” to the list of those to watch. Noi (Tomas Lemarquis) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his grandmother in a remote Icelandic fjord. He sometimes attends high school, and when he does, he turns in blank test papers and sleeps through his French lesson. Noi establishes a daily routine of mild rebellion in which he skips school and hangs out with a Kierkegaard-bashing bookshop owner.

Noi meets Iris (Elin Hansdottir) a girl who works at a local petrol station, and it looks as though Noi’s life may be improving, but instead, daily boredom and hopelessness finally push Noi to the brink of a bigger rebellion.

One of the reasons “Noi” is so very interesting is the way in which the film emphasizes the influence of climate on behaviour and mental stability. Even Noi’s albino complexion seems to be the result of living in this frozen landscape. The oppressive silent blanket of snow and ice doesn’t make life impossible, but it does make it extremely difficult–and the simplest things become monumental tasks. Noi even has to dig his way out of his front door, and at one point Noi tries to meet Iris outside, but it’s freezing cold, so they are forced to take shelter. But apart from the rather obvious physical effects of the ice and snow, the climate seems to permeate the brains of the people around Noi. They exist in various states of despair and hopelessness. Humour and even the ability to experience joy or excitement are entirely absent in these people’s lives. Instead the Icelandic villagers drearily huddle in their homes and entertain themselves with jigsaw puzzles or board games. Noi, in many ways, seems to be the only person in the village who realises that life there is not acceptable, and his rebellion–his attempts to escape–are manifestations of that desperate realisation.

“Noi” presents a bleak depiction of everyday life, yet the film cleverly tempers this with touches of bleak, dark humour. If you enjoy Icelandic film, I also recommend “Reykjavik 101” and “The Seagull’s Laughter.” Directed by Dagur Kari, the film is in Icelandic with English subtitles.

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The Seagull’s Laughter (2001)

“Let these right-wing exploiters gape and stare.”

The Seagull’s Laughter, a strange and hypnotic film, is set in Iceland in the 1950s. The film begins with a light playful, comedic tone, but very quickly morphs into a dark, subversive tale that explores class differences and the suffocating roles of women. The film is told through the eyes of an orphaned young girl, Agga (Ugla Egilsdottir) who is at first impressed by her older, glamorous cousin Freyja (Margret Vilhjalmsdottir). After many years absence, Freya arrives abruptly one day and moves in to the already crowded house where Agga lives with her grandmother.

Freyja left Iceland to marry an American military man, but now she’s back in Hafnarfjordur, a small fishing village. Freyja claims to be a widow offering only a brief, trite explanation that is accepted without question. Meanwhile, she moves in with her relatives. The house contains 5 women–6 once Freyja moves in, and there is only one man in the household who manages to stay away on a fishing boat for most of the year, returning only occasionally for short periods in between work. Freyja’s relatives are more interested in Freya’s 7 trunks of extremely expensive, fashionable clothing than in why she’s back in the village. Well-cut suits show off her 20-inch waist and cling to her stylishly. Freyja seems wildly out of place in the remote Icelandic village. And this, of course, raises the question, why did she return?

Agga is very curious about Freyja, and of all in the females in the household, she remains a little aloof, a little skeptical about Freyja’s motives. The other women form a protective unit around Freyja, and this bond becomes impenetrable when Freyja commits certain acts geared towards protecting and avenging the women in her circle. The roles of women in this Icelandic village are not appetizing. Women of Freyja’s class live in primitive hut-type dwellings, and are subject to beatings and constant infidelity from their brutish husbands. Somehow we know that Freyja won’t tolerate this. She seems removed from this sort of existence, and then she casts her eyes on wealthy engineer Bjorn Theodor (Heino Ferch) a man who’s considered above her class, and much too good for her by most of the villagers. But apart from the obstacle of class removing him from Freyja’s sphere, Theodor is also engaged to another woman–the magistrate’s horsey daughter.

Freyja eventually secures a job in the village’s tiny chemist shop, and she defies societal norms by selling rubbing alcohol to the village drunks. Naturally, this makes her popular with all the drunks in town, but brings condemnation from those trying to enforce the no-alcohol law. Freyja–a Norse goddess of sex, fertility, love, death and magic–amongst other things–becomes a goddess amongst the women of her class in this Icelandic village. Unexplained events hints at a supernatural power. Is she an enchantress, a seductive witch or is she a woman who fearlessly achieves her objectives? Interestingly, it is Agga’s thrust into womanhood that also propels her firmly into Freyja’s circle of female power.

The Seagull’s Laughter is an extremely unusual, multi-layered film. Directed by Agust Guomundsson the film begins with a quirky humorous tone, and yet this beginning is not indicative of the depths of this dark, hypnotic tale. The DVD includes a number of extras: deleted scenes, ‘a making of’ featurette, the theatrical trailer, and an essay by the director. Highly recommended, the film is in Icelandic and Danish with English subtitles.

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