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Ólafur Darri Ólafsson,
Hilmir Snær Guðnason,
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Thirty-year-old Hlynur still lives with his mother and spends his days drinking, watching porn and surfing the net while living off unemployment checks. A girl is interested in him, but he stands back from commitment. His mother's Spanish flamenco teacher, Lola, moves in with them for Christmas. On New Year's Eve, while his mother is away, Hlynur finds out Lola is a lesbian, but also ends up having sex with her. He soon finds out he and his mother are sharing more than a house. Eventually he must find out where he fits into the puzzle, and how to live life less selfishly. Written by
firstname.lastname@example.org/Peter Brandt Nielsen
At first I thought this would be yet another melancholic Scandinavian psycho-drama involving a boy and his coming out lesbian mum. The plot is indeed somewhat along these lines, but there's nothing melancholic let alone Scandinavian about this funny funny movie.
However this is not exactly a comedy either although it turns out to be comical enough. Rather it's a slice of life seen through the glasses of an almost 30 years old drone, brilliantly played by Hilmir Snaer Gudnason, living off benefits and his far too indulgent mother.
Hlynur the anti-hero sleeps til noon, loafs around at home all day and drinks all night. Although he manages to sleep with members of the opposite sex, he can't bear to wake up to them. In other words he's a modern Peter Pan refusing to grow up -- if you can imagine Peter Pan as an apathetic chain-smoking sloth in a parka. And he seems fairly content with his simple non-life until Victoria Abril waltzes in .
The scene where Hlynur's mum confesses her new found sexual direction is nothing short of wonderful. It has an unerring ring of truth to it: a family drama played out over a quiet cuppa in the kitchen and it manages to be moving and hilarious at the same time. In that very scene Gudnason also shows off his exquisite acting skills: with great restraint and uttering PC platitudes he betrays the emotional battle raging within. Pathetic yet sympathetic.
Hlynur is played with just the right blend of indifference, impotence (although not sexual) and self-pity needed for the part and, though fairly unsympathetic to begin with, he grows on you as he reveals himself as a lost little boy. That much of his depressive nerd personality is more or less kept throughout the whole process is yet another proof of the quality of the acting and writing in 101 Reykjavik.
All the main actors central to the plot give stellar performances and many of the marginals too. The music is interesting, scored by our very own Damon Albarn (of Blur) and Einar the Sugarcube (Bjork's Svengali). I especially liked the ambient-reggae version of the old Kinks standard Lola.
Some of the dialogue is in Icelandic which is fine as long as it is subtitled. Much of it is however in English delivered in a bizarre -- but fortunately intelligible -- cocktail of Icelandic and Spanish accents.
There are few drawbacks to this flick, the main one being the obligatory landscape scene of some glacier or lava... I forget. But that's like criticizing a three star restaurant for a spelling error in the menu. -- The superb Reykjavik nightlife scenes are however not to be missed and could well serve as advertisements for Icelandair.
One nice oddity is the nowadays little used narrator voice-over. Well, actually Hlynur serves more as a commentator to the respective fixes he finds himself in, deadpan, mordant and hilarious, but rarely explaining much which the viewer hasn't already divined far better than Hlynur himself ever will. I suspect that these comments are original quotes from the novel on which the film is based.
Played out with extremely dry, self-depreciating, almost Jewish humor, the movie draws to an end as a fairly touching story of familial love disguised as an adult coming-of-age movie, wrapped inside a black comedy. And as often enough happens in real life this Gordian knot of personal problems more or less unravels itself. In a movie however such a solution may seem cheap, but this one gets away with it as the characters just carry on with their lives after redefining the nuclear family.
This is the directing debut by actor/director Baltasar Kormakur, who also wrote the script. Actors do often not make the best directors, but Kormakur proves to be an exception to that rule. The characters are well developed as one could expect, but they are not allowed to get in the way of the storytelling, which relies more on visual details and physical acting than endless dialogue and over-dramatization. This is doubly impressing considering the literary origin of the movie.
And maybe this is a clue to why this film works so well: it is uniquely Icelandic (or should I say Mid-Atlantic), drawing on European and American filmmaking traditions, thus enjoying the best of both worlds: old and new. I know it will work in Britain and Europe and the Americans seem to like it as well judging by the rave review 101 Reykjavik got in Variety and the success at the influential Toronto film festival.
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