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The Three Faces of Contemporary Icelandic Cinema

The Three Faces of Contemporary Icelandic Cinema

Picture of Marcus Clark
Updated: 2 December 2016
Since the early 1990s Iceland has seen exponential growth in its film industry. A new wave of talent has seen a number of breakout directors gain prominence on the European stage. Fridrik Thór Fridriksson, Baltasar Kormákur and Dagur Kári are three such directors, who are making ripples amidst the frosty waters of this Scandinavian country.

Fridrik Thór Fridriksson

Graduating from the documentary and experimental scene of the 1980s, Fridrik Thór Fridriksson went on to establish the Icelandic Film Corporation in 1987. Under the umbrella of his company Fridriksson has directed a number of Icelandic eye openers, and is considered one of the country’s most important cinematic champions.

Examining his contribution to the national industry, his most influential work is probably his second feature Children of Nature (1991). The action follows ageing farmhand Thorgeir (Gísli Halldórsson), who has no choice but to leave his home in the serene Icelandic countryside for an end of days existence in a Reykjavík retirement home. On arrival, he discovers a long lost friend and the pair endeavour to escape to greener pastures. Nominated for an Academy Award, this film opened many people’s eyes to the riches of Icelandic film.

The subsequent years saw an unabashed torrent of creativity flow from the mind of Fridriksson. Films such as Cold Fever (1995), Devil’s Island (1996), and Angels of the Universe (2000) focus on protagonists placed at the crossroads between tradition and modernity, and represent the changing Icelandic identity at the turn of the century.

The Icelandic Film Corporation is now considered the most significant production company in the country with both domestic and international reach and investment. Fridriksson has acted as a stalwart ambassador for Icelandic cinema, producing pieces that are deeply moving, insightful, and relevant.

Baltasar Kormákur

Baltasar Kormákur emerged onto the scene fresh faced and wide eyed at the birth of the millennium with 101 Rekjavík. Based on the novel of the same name by Hallgrímur Helgason, the camera lens is turned towards thirty year old recluse Hlynur (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), who lives in down town Reykjavík with his divorced mother. The fringes of his isolated world become perforated however when Lola (Victoria Abril) a Spanish Flamenco instructor and his mother’s new girlfriend moves into their apartment.

Breaking away from the shadow of Iceland’s cinematic godfather figure, Thór Fridrikkson, Kormákur’s debut is a refreshingly lively and raucous one. Most striking is his portrayal of Reykjavík, which is less than flattering. However, the film’s aesthetics are drenched in enough style and eccentricity to highlight Reykjavík’s cultural hotspots. One such hotspot comes in the form of Kaffibarin, the moody and ethereal bar in which Hlynur finds solace.

Kormákur’s film offers an impression of Iceland through the eyes of its solitary protagonist. The film is reminiscent of the best of European art house cinema in this regard. A more Eurocentric trend percolates the film and Kormákur himself has remarked, ‘I consider myself more a European director who is from Iceland rather than an Icelandic director.’

101 Reykjavík is a fine example of the new wave of filmmaking currently swelling in Iceland. Kormákur’s other notable works include The Sea (2002), A Little Trip to Heaven (2005), and Jar City (2006). Kormákur’s sleek and visceral body of work challenges preconceptions of Icelandic film and has earned the director widespread acclaim.

Watch the Trailer for 101 Reykjavik:

Dagur Kári

A Graduate from the National Film School of Denmark in 1999; Icelandic director Dagur Kari put his graduation to charming use with his debut feature Nói The Albino (2003). The film explores the purgatory like existence of seventeen year old oddball Nói (Tómas Lemarquis) who lives with his dysfunctional family in an isolated fishing village amidst one of Iceland’s many fjords.

 

Kari’s surreal coming of age tale tugs at the heartstrings and tickles the funny bone. Tómas Lemarquis is exquisitely expressive in his facial features alone, whilst also bringing an awkward yet dexterous gait to the character. The real protagonist of the film though is the stunning setting. Exceptional cinematography wonderfully captures the desolate expanses and obliqueness of Nói’s white washed world. The landscape acts as a powerful and mysterious symbol just as puzzling as Nói himself.

 

Nói the Albino marked the arrival of the country’s newest talent and was garnered with accolades at its time of release. The film has also already become somewhat of a cult classic. Kari’s next outing, Dark Horse (2005), saw him go back to Denmark, where he studied film, and prompted similar buzz when screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

 

Watch the trailer for Nói the Albino: