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Is Iceland a "nice land"?
101 Reykjavik (DVD)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
101 Reykjavik (DVD)
Advantages: Wonderful scenery; fantastic anti-hero; Victoria Abril's performance
Disadvantages: Abril's accent is hard to understand at times
"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.
Summary: Dark and very funny - Iceland as you've never seen it before