Icelandic cinema and series: Hell is charming


Iceland is an island of profuse volcanic activity with just 370,000 inhabitants. A natural paradise that has been chosen as a location for the exteriors of dozens of international films and series. But in recent years, especially since the promotion policies of the sector promoted by a 2003 law that stipulates aid for the production of fiction in cinema, television and documentaries, it has ceased to be the exclusive destination of foreign film crews. to become the origin of many auteur films acclaimed at festivals and also of proposals that have conquered the massive public of the platforms streaming from around the world.

A little lamb named Ada


Within the first aspect appear, for example, two films that the MUBI service launched this week. “Lamb”audacious, provocative and fascinating debut film by Valdimar Jóhannsson that won the Prize for Innovation in the Un Certain Regard official competition at the last Cannes Film Festival, has Noomi Rapace (the Swedish actress who played Lisbeth Salander in the original saga based on the novels by Stieg Larsson) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) as a couple who live on a farm in the middle of nowhere, an area in the middle of hills so beautiful as inhospitable (especially in winter).

When the weather improves, they work with the tractor they drive and raise sheep. There are dogs, cats, horses, lambs in the place, but they live in complete solitude. And in a decision that will change the course of their lives (and the film), they adopt a little lamb, whom they name Adaand they begin to raise him as if he were their son.

So far what we can reveal so as not to fall into frustrating spoilers. In the second half, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), Ingvar’s wayward brother, will arrive at the scene, and that strange presence will invade the apparent idyll and give an external look at the matter.

The film -conceived by Sjón, the most prestigious writer in the country as a novelist, poet, screenwriter and composer and lyricist on several albums by his compatriot Björk- is quite austere, ascetic and “Icelandic” (geography and idiosyncrasy transform them into an adjective) with a creative use of visual effects and a certain misshapen fairy tale imprint reminiscent of “Border: I felt something beautiful”by Ali Abbasi, and disruptive, surreal and fantastic elements that burst into the middle of the rural drama and refer to the cinema of Robert Eggers and Ari Aster.

Threw out
“Threw out”

The second novelty of MUBI is “Threw out” (“Bergmál”), by Rúnar Rúnarsson. The most recent film by the director of “Volcano” and “Gorriones” / “Sparrows” (winner of the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Festival 2015) proposes a portrait of modern Iceland at Christmas time. A social fresco where the chain of gags highlights the most common differences between the inhabitants of that country and which had a very good reception when it premiered at the 2019 Locarno Festival International Competition.

From stopping a penalty against Messi to directing police

Some compare the fashion of Icelandic (audiovisual) cinema with that enjoyed in 2018 by the football team which, in a country with such a small population and without outdoor sports activity for much of the year due to the very low temperatures, managed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

And those connections between soccer and cinema are not capricious. Some will remember that in the 1-1 draw with Argentina Hannes Þór Halldórsson saved a penalty from Messi himself. At that time, of course, the profiles of the “filmmaker goalkeeper” intensified, although at that time he had only filmed some short-lived commercials and documentaries.

As well, Halldórsson hung up his gloves, put down his bow, grabbed the camera and surprised by premiering last August within the International Competition of the very prestigious Locarno Festival (Switzerland) “Cop Secret”a police satirical comedy code that mocks the usual narrative codes of this type of story with an agent with Clint Eastwood pretensions who fixes everything by shooting and a villain with a past as a model who seems to be taken from “Zoolander” .

King Midas in Iceland


Beyond the very curious case of Halldórsson, it is not possible to take a tour of the Icelandic audiovisual industry without putting at the center of the scene Baltasar Kormakurwho after attracting attention with feature films in his country such as “Winter hot” (2000), “A trip to heaven” (2005) and “The depth” (2012) regularly ventured into Hollywood with “Two lethal weapons” (2013), a combination of buddy-movie and neo-noir with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg that includes everything from millionaire bank robberies to the presence of CIA, FBI, DEA, military intelligence and cartel agents drug Mexicans; “Everest” (2015), about the true story of a rugged expedition to the highest mountain in the world with Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Jake Gyllenhaal; and “Adrift” (2018), survival story with Shailene Woodley.

But Kormákur did not stay in the comfort (or temptation) of Hollywood and returned to his country as showrunner, producer and director of several episodes of two notable series that can be seen on Netflix: “Trapped”, a thriller starring Ólafur Darri Ólafsson -something like the Icelandic Ricardo Darín- about murders that shake a small community in a remote area in the midst of winter storms; and “Katla”, disturbing story in a town marked by the ashes that come from a volcano and by mysterious apparitions. They are two notable incursions into genres that have nothing to envy to the fashionable Nordic noir of countries with greater tradition -and much more production- such as Denmark, Sweden or Norway.

More recommendations

Rams The story of two brothers and eight sheep
“Rams: The Tale of Two Brothers and Eight Sheep”

The force of wild nature and the psychological effects of isolation, desolation and solitary confinement are also present in classics like “Children of nature”, a film by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson that to date is the only one of that origin that got an Oscar nomination in 1992; and in other valuable titles that passed through Argentine cinemas such as “Woman at war” (2018), by Benedikt Erlingsson (the same director of “Stories of horses and men”); “Rams: The Story of Two Brothers and Eight Sheep”a tragicomedy that focuses on the relationship between two brothers who do not even speak to each other in the setting of a small and remote town and which earned the director Grímur Hákonarson the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Also from the recent harvest of the Icelandic quarry, “Vinterbrødre” / “Winter Brothers”, by Hlynur Pálmason, deserves to be highlighted, a powerful, sordid and provocative story that won the Best Actor award for Elliott Crosset Hoveen at Locarno 2017, also about two brothers who in in this case they work inside a mine; “Good Neighbors”, by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, distinguished at the Venice Film Festival and Icelandic representative for the Oscar in 2019, which bets on harsh humor to narrate the dispute between two families over the shade caused by the branches of a tree; while also offering comedic elements “The Woman of the Mountain”, a film by Benedikt Erlingsson about the struggle of a farmer against the economic interests of a powerful mafia that harm her way of life and the environment. In this reissue of the myth of David against Goliath, the comedy leaves room, of course, for political criticism with very good artistic results.

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