Iceland is often portrayed by outsiders as a strange country, almost other-worldly in its oddness, its inhabitants are portrayed as kooky and a bit strange, well this is possibly the most famous Icelandic film ever, shot by the Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur and it portrays the Icelanders as slightly odd and kooky.
The film is named after the postcode of the district in which the film is shot, our hero (or anti-hero) is the terminally geeky (and yet very cool) Hlynur (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). He is nearing 30, lives with his mum, has an addiction to cyberporn and can't find a job, he spends most of his spare time in a central Icelandic bar (owned by the Director and the musician Damon Albarn, who also wrote the score for this film).
Hlynur finds himself isolated from the world at large and is blissfully unaware of more than he knows, he nihilistically comments 'I'll be dead after I die. I was dead before I was born. Life is a break from death.'
His life changes somewhat when the enigmatic Lola (Victoria Abril, a Spanish actress famous for her work with Pedro Almodovar) arrives, she is a Spanish Flamenco teacher and is allowed to stay with Hlynur and his mother. Lola is in love with Hlynur's mother and Hlynur is unaware of their lesbianism, one day when his mother is out of town he and Lola have sex after drinking too much, but he then realises that Lola and his mother are in love and becomes jealous, however this is tempered by his wish for his mother to be happy and he searches for something more in his life. Lola becomes pregnant and we now have the somewhat awkward situation of a mother and son both in love with the same woman. As Hlynur puts it 'Lola will be his mum, and my mum will be his dad. And I'll be his brother, but his father too, and the son of his dad and of his grandmother and his mothers ex-lover.'
The film is a brilliant quirky comedy, Hlynur is a wonderful creation and if he is a typical Icelander I want to live there, he spends his days searching for something, but he is isolated and perhaps this is a metaphor for this grand country which is so far from anywhere, what more can he do than what he does, is the key to life getting a job? Is death a part of life, do we die when we fall asleep, these are all interesting concepts.
The film begins following his humdrum and yet cool life and Lola is the dynamic for everything and nothing to change, she brings fire, passion and a real dynamic to the house and is at the centre of everything she gives Hlynur and his mother something more to live for and yet Hlynur is still unhappy, jealous and wondering what he should really be doing with his life.
At heart this is a slacker film questioning what we do and why we do it, Hlynur is a fun central character a good guy at heart but prone to deep cynicism, some of his internal dialogue and flashbacks are interesting showing his alcoholic father, his dreams of sex with Lola which turn into a threesome with his own mother and his christmas with family where the highlight is watching the previous christmas, which was exactly the same.
The film is both normal and abnormal and embraces and ridicules both, it is funny and charming, the scenery is exceptional and you do wonder how such a place can be boring, but like anywhere it can, it has life and a dark morbid fascination with death and the film seems to be a metaphor for the Icelandic life and spirit, great drinkers, great welfare system and they are kooky but surely there is more to life than this, well the finale is spectacular in its mundaneity and I have to say it made me laugh out loud as Hlynur's search for some kind of fulfillment takes him to a profession nobody could ever associate with such feelings.
Overall its a fantastic film with a great cast, colourful, well shot and really interesting from start to finish. The score by Damon Albarn is suitable weird and kooky too.
DVD can be bought on Amazon for £10.48.
"I'll be dead after I die. I was dead before I was born. Life is just a break from death"
So says Hylnur, the lugubrious anti-hero of "Reykjavik 101". Fast approaching thirty he lives with his mother and shows no sign of leaving home or getting a job. Hylnur spends his days watching porn films and his nights in bars with his friends. Sometimes he sleeps with his "girlfriend" but spends rather more time avoiding the girl than actually in her company. Hylnur is just filling in time.
When his mother announces that Lola, her attractive Spanish flamenco teacher is moving in with them, Hylnur shows no more interest in the news than he does in anything else. However, when his mother goes away for New Year the two are left in the house together. After a drunken evening in the bars of Reykjavik, Lola and Hylnur end up in bed.
When his mother comes home she summons Hylnur to the kitchen. She and Lola are sitting there wearing very grave expressions. Full of panic, Hylnur is about to try to explain what happened with Lola and apologise to his mother for "taking advantage" of the lodger but his mother gets in first; she and Lola are in love. Realising that his mother knows nothing of his drunken fling with her lover, Hylnur gives a sigh of relief and happily gives them his blessing.
Just when Hylnur thinks he can snuggle back into his routines, he receives some news which throws all their lives off balance. Should he tell his mother that he is the father of Lola's baby that his mother and Lola intend to bring up together or should he keep quiet. And after the terrible way he's treated her, just why does Hylnur's on/off girlfriend keep pursuing him?
Hilmir Snaer Gudnason steals the limelight as Hylnur in a film that has, on paper, only one really meaty character. To be honest Hylnur's mother and Lola are weak characters but it is the excellent acting which disguises this fact. Victoria Abril is wonderful as the vibrant and magnetic dance teacher. She is fiery, full of passion and every part the artistic idealist. Hanna Maria Karlsdottir as the liberal mother is convincing although has much less opportunity to develop the character. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Pruor Vihjalmsdottir as Hylnur's long-suffering "girlfriend", blindly ignoring Hylnur's cruel brush-offs and trying to make him like her.
An important aspect of the film is its setting. The story is adapted from a novel by Icelandic author Hallgrimur Helgason so it is only natural to take Iceland as the film setting too, but it really does contribute to the feeling of the film. Of course, it would not be true to say that the situations the characters find themselves in are specific only to Iceland but surely their reactions to them are at least partly influenced by them.
"Reykjavík is like some backwater in Siberia, with glaciated diarrhoea," says one of the characters - whilst this will surely do little to encourage viewers to see Iceland themselves, this does give an insight into the film's characters. The whole tone of the movie is decidedly black and the bleak, cold landscapes enhance the darkness of the film.
Visually it is an absolute pleasure to watch. Director Baltasar Kormakur manages to get in many of Reykjavik's architectural gems but also uses other aspects of Icelandic culture to tell the story. For example, many of the scenes take place in some of Reykjavik's hot and sweaty nightclubs. Icelandic youth culture is legendary and many young backpackers head to the city each year to experience it for themselves. It could be seen as an antidote to the cold, dark outdoors; Hylnur is bored with life but he still manages to make it out each night. To me this represented a temporary escape to warmth, colour and contact with other people. I can see why, after much of the year having short days and long nights, young Icelanders prefer to spend the night partying, trying to put the darkness out of mind.
Without spoiling the film I have to mention some of the little parts of the film which are very ordinary to Icelandic viewers but which caught my eye - a portable bathtub which has an upholstered lid to turn the whole thing into a seat, the lovely little wooden church which looks like it should be on an American prairie, the amazing pointy church in Reykjavik ..
The music also complements the film well; much is electronica/dance music and the soundtrack features tracks by Damon Albarn of Blur and Einar orn Benediktsson of the Sugarcubes. The soundtrack also features the old Kinks Song "Lola" performed in a series of different musical styles throughout the film.
"101 Reykjavik" is in Icelandic with English subtitles although the scenes featuring Lola are spoken in English, this presumably being the language the three have in common. I was impressed in this instance in the way the captions appeared on the screen long enough to read them properly - so often not the case.
This is not a laugh-a-minute film; for me there were moments of hilarity - the funny parts were VERY funny. It is though a charming film, easy on the eye, full of things to look at and thought-provoking - raising moral dilemmas and making you think about how one choose to live life. It is a quirky film and one which would probably be enjoyed by fans of Pedro Almodovar films - the black humour the Spanish director uses is very similar. It has been given an 18 certificate presumably due to the sex scenes but I would suggest this is perhaps a little over zealous.
Film released 2000
Available on DVD from £7.53 - used and new - through amazon.co.uk
Extras - filmographies for the leading three and Kormakur; the trailer containing several scenes which did not make the final edit.
'101 Reykjavik' is an incredibly funny film. The narrative follows a thirty year old 'layabout' named Hilmir (Hilmir Snaer) living in Reykjavik, his main activities are going out and getting drunk, looking at porn on the internet and that's about it. Hilmir could be a contender for laziest person in the world. The man just wants to get through life without doing anything. When asked what he will do with his life he replies "I'll stay on the dole and when that runs out, I'll go onto my old age pension". Everything unravels in his cosy world when Hilmir's mother invites a Spanish friend to stay with them for Christmas and New Year. When his mother goes to see relatives, Hilmir is left alone with Lola (Victoria Abril) and after a drunken party they sleep together. A big shock awaits Hilmir when he discovers his mother and Lola are more than just friends, worse is to come when Hilmir finds out Lola is pregnant. Hilmir's life, which was once very simplistic, is now very complex and he doesn't like it. This is the first Icelandic film I have ever had the pleasure to see. I found it to be not only to be a funny film but also quite moving in that the film's message is that "no matter how much we want our lives to be simplistic and straight forward, they inevitably get complex". The film is about a man learning to feel human emotion and except the fact he is growing old. The setting of Reykjavik was new to me and I must say it looks a mixture of incredible beauty and also very boring. Hilmir says to Lola in one scene "The only reason people live here is because they were born here". The acting by the cast is superb all-around and there are many standout scenes including my person favourite when Hilmir fantasies about killing his entire family at a Christmas gathering, the over-the-top violent nature as the family members are killed with a shotgun in slow mo
tion is downright hilarious. The film belongs to Hilmer and the actor who plays him, the man is one of cinema's funniest anti-heroes. With a performance that at first comes across as plain comedy, it turns into a rather moving portray of growing up, the scene towards the end where he tries to commit suicide by freezing to death on a mountaintop is very sad. '101 Reykjavik' also features a brilliant soundtrack courtesy of a collaboration between Damon Albarn (who also did a great soundtrack with Michael Nyman for 'Ravenous') and ex-Sugarcubes member Einar Orn Bennedictsson). The music is rather eccentric like the film and the main theme 'Dub Lola' is a re-working of a famous song by Ray Davis. I honestly do not know much about Icelandic cinema but I will try and discover more after watching this excellent comedy. Another thing worth mentioning is that the film is both in English and Icelandic, so don't be put off watching it because it is a commercial film and not an art film. Overall the film features, great acting, lovely cinematography and killer music. My review is rather short I admit but I don't want to spoil the effect of the film for the prospective audience. Just watch the film!
It's often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and nowhere is that more evident than in 101 Reykjavik, which is supposedly based, albeit loosely, on factual events. Even though its content and structure are drawn from a novel by Hallgrimur Helgason, director Baltasar Kormakur (one of the stars of fellow Icelandic filmmaker Fredrik Thor Fridriksson's recent festival favorite, Angels of the Universe) asserts that aspects of his picture are autobiographical, although he hastens to add that none of them are related to the movie's salacious elements. 101 Reykjavik tells a tale of what people do during winter in a country where the sun doesn't shine, snow comes down almost non-stop, and even "the ghosts are bored." In fact, as the lead character states, "the only reason anyone lives [in Iceland] is because they're born here." 101 Reykjavik is an offbeat comedy that introduces us to Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer), a 28-year old man who defines the word "loser." Hlynur spends his days lying in bed, surfing the Internet for porn sites, and generally doing nothing worthwhile. He still lives with his mother, and, on those rare occasions when he ventures out of the house, it's to get plastered at the local pub. He has a girlfriend of sorts, whom he treats badly, doing things like slipping out of her bed in the middle of the night and closing the door in her face after she gives him a Christmas present. For Hlynur, life is just a vacation from death. Then Lola (Victoria Abril), a Spanish flamenco teacher and his mother's lesbian lover, enters his world. He is attracted to her, and they eventually have a one-night stand that results in Lola's pregnancy. And, since Lola is practically married to Hlynur's mother, that puts him in the bizarre position of essentially being his son's brother, or his brother's father. 101 Reykjavik uses a combination of humor, pathos, and general weirdness to goo
d effect. Unfortunately, watching this movie requires viewers to spend 100 minutes in the company of Hlynur, who is a rather reprehensible human being. He never takes responsibility for his actions, is nasty to just about everyone, and, when the chips are down, he sinks into a morass of self-pity. Most of us have known people like Hylnur, and our best moments with them are usually when they're out of our lives. Nevertheless, despite the unpleasant protagonist, it's hard not to appreciate what the film has to offer, dark and eccentric though it may be. 101 Reykjavik offers audiences an unvarnished look into some of the ins-and-outs of life in Iceland - not that we're supposed to think that every family situation is as convoluted as this one. In his portrayal of the country, Kormakur shows aspects that many international viewers will not be familiar with. In addition to its cultural exposé, 101 Reykjavik has the added attractions of a wonderfully spirited performance by Victoria Abril (probably best known for her role in Almodovar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), a refreshingly frank outlook on sexuality, and a memorable soundtrack. With its nods to Oedipus and Hamlet, this motion picture presents audiences with a lot to digest, and provides a frothy chaser to wash it down with. It is the latest testament to the originality of the Icelandic film community, which is slowly and surely gaining international recognition. (The 2001 Toronto International Film Festival will have a program devoted exclusively to movies from Iceland.)
Iceland's capital is the backdrop for this light, offbeat comedy. It's a cold godforsaken place where the characters seem to get very bored, and drink themselves into a stupor much of the time. And, one thing I would say... their houses seem to be extremely untidy! Hylner is the central character, in his late twenties, and still living at home with his Mum, spending time checking porn sites, and visiting the bars in the evenings. He reminds me quite a lot of Louis Theroux, for some reason. He's not especially a heroic person, a parka wearing, nerdy smoker/drinker who refuses to look for a job, and is on the depressive side, but, believe it or not, you warm to him as the movie progresses. He has an on-off relationship with a girl, which he seems to be very unemotional and noncommittal about - what I mean is, he'll have sex with her, but always leaves before morning. His Mum brings home a friend, Lola, a Spanish woman who teaches dancing, and Hylner is fascinated by her, not realising that Lola is actually a lesbian. Similar territory to Chasing Amy, then, and Victoria Abril, who plays Lola, has played a lesbian before, in the very funny French film Gazon Maudit. So, basically, a film about the everyday life of a no-hoper, making the most of living on a freezing cold country, who goes and falls in love with his Mum's best friend, who happens to be a lesbian - all in all, he doesn't seem to be destined for success either in his day-to-day life, or his love life! The story is based on a novel by Hallgrimur Helgason, and this movie is the directoral debut of actor/director Baltasar Kormakur. Overall, I think it is a success. There are some odd things about it, but maybe that even adds to the appeal. There's a mixture of subtitled Icelandic, and lines delivered in English (especially those between the three central characters, Hylner, his Mum, and Lola). The soundtrack i
s by Damon Albran (who apparently owns a bar in Reykjavik), and Einar of the Sugarcubes (with it being an Icelandic movie, you just knew either the Sugarcubes or Bjork would be involved somehow, didn't you?). On the whole, the music is not the kind of thing that you'd want to go out and buy the album - it sounds a bit low-budget, and is 'interesting', rather than great music, but it fits in quite well with the movie. There'a a rather nice reggae version of the Kinks' song Lola, which really does add something to the movie - very appropriate. I enjoyed this movie - you really don't know what will happen, and there are plenty surprises. I especially liked the scenes of the traditional Christmas visit to relatives, where the conversation of the old uncles is so boring it's funny, and things get even worse when they put on the video of last year's Christmas - same dull conversations! I think I now understand why suicide is such a problem in Iceland. But, having said that, it's not a depressing movie, in fact it's more likely to raise your spirits.
Modern-day Iceland is terminally weird, if writer-director Baltasar Kormákur's debut film 101 Reykjavík is anything to go by. Our guide to this particular Icelandic saga is Hlynur, 28-year-old unemployed slacker and one-man Nordic-gloom factory; "I'll be dead after I die. I was dead before I was born. Life is just a break from death," he muses. After his gut-freezingly boring family Christmas dinner--whose highpoint is watching a video of last year's ditto--you can see his point. Distraction, and a welcome dose of Southern warmth, comes in the form of his mother's flamenco teacher Lola (the delicious Victoria Abril). Only after sleeping with her does he discover that she's not just Mum's teacher, but her lover as well. A little like Pål Sletaune's 1997 Norwegian postie-comedy Junk Mail, 101 Reykjavík gets a lot of lugubrious fun from its protagonist's sheer social and emotional ineptitude--though to give Hlynur his due, most of his mates seem equally clueless, (the women, as so often in this kind of movie, come off rather better). We've been here before, of course--as a male with a severe case of delayed adolescence is gradually brought to engage with adulthood--but the offbeat humour and eccentric details of Kormákur's film keep it fresh and engaging. Whether--in view of remarks like "Reykjavík is like some backwater in Siberia, with glaciated diarrhoea,"--it will do much for the Icelandic tourist trade is another matter! On the DVD: Filmographies for Kormákur, Abril, and lead male actor Hilmir Snaer Gudnason; subtitles and menu; and the theatrical trailer, which contains snatches of several scenes evidently cut from the final release. The sound is clean and immediate (score co-composed by Damon Albarn) and the widescreen print preserves the original 16:9 ratio. --Philip Kemp