Desert Island DVDs – Alison Baillie

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Alison Baillie’s first novel Sewing the Shadows Together was published in 2015. It is mainly set in Scotland and was partly inspired by her years teaching in Edinburgh. She has also taught in Finland and Switzerland, where she now lives. She visited Iceland Noir in 2014 and is thrilled to be taking part in it this year.

This is a small selection of European films that have stayed in her mind over the years.

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Der Verdingbub (The Foster Boy) (Switzerland, 2011)

‘This atmospheric film caused quite a sensation when it came out in Switzerland as, although it is fiction, it is based on real cases in the fifties, when disadvantaged children were fostered by poor farmers and used as slave labour. The film, which has wonderful photography and acting, tells the story of a young boy and girl taken in by an abusive farming family in the Emmmental. The powerful realism of the scenes made a huge impression on me and still linger in my memory.’

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Good Bye Lenin (Germany, 2003)

‘I vividly remember seeing this film in small cinema in Berlin when I visited the city for the first time in 2003. It is set in Berlin in 1989, at the time the Wall came down, and is a charming comedy, with a serious message, showing some of the problems of the transition to unification. I’ve been back to Berlin several times since that first time, but I always think of this film when I’m there.’

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The Lives of Others (Germany, 2006)

‘This film is set in East Berlin in 1984 and is the story of a Stasi officer who begins surveillance on a playwright and his family and becomes increasingly involved in their lives. It is an incredibly moving and atmospheric film, beautifully directed and acted, and memories of scenes from this film still bring me out in goose-bumps.’

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Intouchables (France, 2011)

‘This incredibly funny and uplifting story of the unlikely friendship between a man trapped in a wheelchair and his carer is set in Paris and is loosely based on a true story. I watched it in French and although my French is very rusty I was totally absorbed by it. The acting of Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet is amazing, making this a memorable and thought-provoking film.’

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Ashes and Diamonds (Poland, 1958)

‘I was wondering what to choose for my fifth film and I remembered Ashes and Diamonds, the first foreign sub-titled film I ever saw. I was still at school and while my parents were out I stayed up late watching a foreign film season on television. This film came on, a stunning black and white film set in Poland in the closing days of World War 2, full of symbolism and smouldering passion. The title (what a great one) has always stuck in my mind and when I looked it up I could still remember my reaction to it, a kind of wonder at a world out there so different from what I was used to.’

Thanks to Alison Baillie and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Alison Baillie is published by Matador

Desert Island DVDs – Ragnar Jónasson

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Dark Iceland author reveals his castaway choices.

Co-founder of the crime fiction festival Iceland Noir, Ragnar Jónasson’s has already earned a reputation as one of Iceland’s foremost crime writers. He has been cited by critics as one of Nordic Noir’s most distinctive emerging voices.

His debut novel Snow Blind was listed as one of 2015’s best crime novels by The Independent. Orenda published a  follow-up, Night Blind, in 2016.

The second sequel, Blackout, has recently been released. Two further instalments in the Dark Iceland series are being translated into English by Quentin Bates and will be issued by Orenda Books.

Ragnar is currently overseeing a TV adaptation of Snow Blind.

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And Then There Were None (UK, 2015)

‘I really loved the new television adaptation of Agatha Christie´s classic. It was stark and beautiful, stayed true to the plot and showed Agatha´s darker side.’

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Life in a Fishbowl (Iceland, 2014).

‘A surprise blockbuster in Iceland, a quiet and excellent drama, probably the best Icelandic film in years, starring two of Iceland’s most talented actors of their generation, Thor Kristjansson and Hera Hilmar.’

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The Night Manager (UK/USA, 2016).

‘Absolutely superb crime series, gripping from start to finish, with top notch actors and high production values, and of course based on a book by a great author.’

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Alibi & Black Coffee (UK, 1931).

‘Two lost Agatha Christie films, the first Poirot film adaptations, starring Austin Trevor. I’d love to find them and bring them with me to the desert island!’

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The Bridge – Season 1 (Sweden/Denmark, 2011).

‘Probably the best Nordic crime series to date, terrific cast and a great script, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats.’

Thanks to Ragnar Jónasson and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Ragnar Jónasson is published by Orenda.

 

DVD Review: Jitters

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Teenage Kicks: Baldvin Z’s debut feature film is a sympathetically sketched portrait of self-discovery.

Icelandic filmmaker Baldvin Z has rapidly established himself as one of the most exciting directors to emerge on the Nordic scene in recent years. In addition to helming three episodes of Trapped, he wrote and produced the black comedy series Hæ gosi. His feature film Life in a Fishbowl was 2014’s most successful Icelandic film. More recently he directed the gripping Nordic Noir series Case.

Producing films since the age of 11, his early work was screened at local cinemas and on Icelandic TV. Baldvin’s professional career began when he directed a commercial in 2004. He subsequently attended filmmaking workshops in Norway and Denmark. Upon his return to Iceland he directed the short film Planet Earth. The short was screened at the Northern Wave International Film Festival where cinephiles noted that Baldvin was an obvious talent to watch.

Making the transition to feature-length motion pictures, Baldvin released his debut Jitters in 2010. The film is an adaptation of a pair of books by actor, screenwriter, and novelist Ingibjorg Reynisdottir who collaborated on the screenplay with. Baldvin.

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Filmed in Iceland and the UK, Jitters is a coming-of-age story focusing on a group of Reykjavik teenagers as they explore their sexuality, form emotional bonds, and struggle to define their place in contemporary Icelandic society.

Comparisons to E4’s teen comedy drama Skins ignore Nordic cinema’s long history of producing youth related content. Several Icelandic filmmakers have directed rites-of-passage movies including Þorsteinn Jónsson’s Dot, Dot, Comma, Dash and Runar Runarsson’s Sparrows. Baldvin Z’s film fits within a longstanding tradition of using film to dramatize growing pains and the Nordic condition.

An assured feature-length debut, Jitters offers a non-judgemental view of life as a teenager in the aftermath of Iceland’s economic turmoil. The director has crafted a compassionate narrative which wisely resists the all too obvious temptations to patronize and sensationalize the teenage experience. Understated and intimate, Jitters continued relevance is, in part, due to it being a relatively early example of an Icelandic film exploring LGBT-related issues.

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Chaos and confusion of the teenager experience is contrasted with a cynical view of parenthood. Emphasising the narrative’s allegiance to youth, adults are presented as controlling, narrow-minded, and having limited emotional intelligence. Father type figures are shown to be weak, and inefficient. Mothers and grandmothers are represented as suffocating and destructive.

Leading the ensemble cast is Atli Óskar Fjalarsson (Sparrows) who plays Gabriel a student unsure about his place in the world and taking tentative steps on a voyage of self-discovery. Enrolled on a study programme in Manchester by his domineering mother, he shares a dormitory with Markus (Haraldur Ari Stefansson). Two young lives are transformed by three weeks in a foreign land.

Temporarily free from parental influence the pair embrace the opportunity to experience new sensations.

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They return to Reykjavik as very different people and soon friends and family start to notice changes have occurred. Gabriel’s emotional and sexual experimentation has left him in a state of confusion. Unsure about how to reconcile his newly discovered sexuality he is initially in a state of denial. Gabriel busies himself providing a shoulder for his friends to cry on as he tries to reach a state of acceptance.

Baldvin’s ensemble cast is a mixture of new and established actors. Among the faces familiar to UK viewers are Þorsteinn Bachmann (Trapped, Life in a Fishbowl, Case, Volcano), Gísli Örn Garðarsson (Beowulf, City State, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), and Ingibjörg Reynisdottir (Case, The Day Shift).

Jitters‘ cinematic release revealed the emergence of a fully formed artistic voice. Themes and stylistic techniques the director would return to in Life in a Fishbowl and Case are present in Jitters.

An uncompromising snapshot of young life in Reykjavik. Jitters portrayal of youthful exuberance and confusion meshes universal themes with a distinctly localized perspective. Sharp and brutally honest, the film tells an emotionally powerful story far removed from American teenage comedies overloaded with saccharine humour and quirkiness.

Jitters is available to order from Amazon

Desert Island DVDs – Grant Nicol

Grant Nicol

Iceland based New Zealand crime writer picks his top five European DVDs.

After leaving his homeland, Grant initially worked in Australia and the UK before visiting Iceland in 2009. Further visits over a five year period convinced him to set down roots in Reykjavik.

His debut novel On A Small Island was published in 2014. A second novel The Mistake followed in 2015. Tense, dark and brooding, the book was long-listed for the prestigious Ngaio Marsh Award .

Fahrenheit Press will publish Grant’s third novel A Place To Bury Strangers and reissue On A Small Island later in 2016.

Co-organiser of this year’s Iceland Noir festival, Grant took time out from his busy schedule to reveal his Desert Island DVDs.

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Betty Blue (France, 1986)

Betty Blue is a movie I discovered in my teens and the first French film to ever ‘break out’ on the other side of the world. It was a phenomenon in 1986 and was the biggest grossing French film of all time until A Prophet came along in 2009. It is, in my opinion, also the only film ever to have a ‘director’s cut’ that is actually better than the original cinematic release. Jean-Jacques Beineix was told that his original 3 hour version would not be released and that after the financial failure of his previous film he was to cut Betty Blue down to 2 hours. He did so to ensure the release of the film but then 15 years later was able to release the version he had always wanted to. It’s hard to say exactly what the main strengths of Betty Blue  are simply because there are so many to choose from. The performances from Jean-Hugues Anglade and Béatrice Dalle are mouth-watering as is the cinematography and the unforgettable soundtrack. It’s the saddest love story I can think of and that’s why it’s the greatest love story of all time.’

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Frozen Land (Finland, 2005)

Frozen Land or Paha Maa as it is known in its home country is about as Finnish as it gets. It is the interconnected stories of a bunch of sad, troubled people trying to get their lives together against a backdrop of poverty, crime, loneliness, alcoholism and copious amounts of despair, grief and loss. It is not a happy watch but it is undeniably brilliant. Shot in a Finnish winter as you might expect from the title it is heavy going from the beginning and doesn’t let up at any point along the way to the sad, poignant ending. What it does give you en route though is a solid insight into Finnish ways of dealing with loss and the acceptance that life just hasn’t turned out the way you might have hoped. It won’t do much to dissuade people of the idea that Finland is full of vodka-drinking suicide cases even if in my experience the Finns are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It is a hard-hitting social commentary on modern life and what people will do in the pursuit of money.’

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Mastermind (Sweden, 2005)

‘This is brilliant. Episode 6 of Yellow Bird’s Wallander Series 1 was so good that it was deemed worthy of a cinematic release. It is the story of a disgruntled villain who Kurt Wallander helped put in prison. While said villain was incarcerated his daughter killed herself. When he gets out it’s time for revenge and he gets a job where he can keep a close eye on Wallander and his colleagues. Both Martinsson and Wallander have their daughters kidnapped in circumstances that are both ingenious and genuinely spooky and soon both officers are desperately trying to stop the unthinkable from happening. The writing is so clever I wanted to stand up and clap the first time I watched it and it was a huge influence on my first novel. All three series are worth a watch. This just happens to be the crowning jewel.’

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Rare Exports (Finland, 2010)

‘Another Finnish movie here and this time we are embracing the other side of the Finnish mind-set – total craziness. Two young boys stumble upon what looks to be a large mining operation near the Finnish/Russian border but they can’t possibly be ready for what it is that the scientists are trying to extract from the ice. Santa Claus is coming to town but not the rotund affable Santa that we all know and love. No. This is the giant child-eating phenomenon that Finland has. Once his many helpers find out that Santa is about to be released from his icy tomb hundreds of naked Finnish men in their late 90s start to arrive to help him out. They slaughter entire reindeer herds and hide him in a barn where they defrost him by stealing the town’s supply of heaters and radiators as well as every single potato sack in sight. That’s right, potato sacks. Is this because Santa loves his tatties? No. It’s because you can fill them with children and then he has something to eat when he gets free. This film is disturbing and hilarious in equal measures and genuinely tickled my sense of humour. The Finns are a lot funnier than people give them credit for and this movie is a great example of that even if the humour is as dark as midnight on a Lapland winter’s evening. The title comes from the fact that all the naked ‘helpers’ are cleaned up at the end of the film and shipped off around the world to become Santas in their own rights.’

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France, 2007)

‘This tender and touching film is based on the memoir of journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine. It shows us what his life is like after suffering a massive stroke that left him with ‘locked-in syndrome’ and how his speech therapist helped him write his autobiography using the only part of his body that still moved to dictate the text to her. His left eyelid. She devises a way that he can work through the letters of the alphabet and spell out each word for her. The technique is simple but incredibly time-consuming and her patience is endless but the brilliance of the story is found in the compassion that the two main participants bring to a strange and sombre tale. There is something haunting about the movie and the gentle way that the nurse brings this broken man back to the point where he wants to tell the world about what has happened to him. I’m not usually one for these ‘guy overcomes all odds’ sorts of stories but this left me feeling genuinely moved mainly because of the relationship that is struck up between this man and his one and only link with the ‘outside’ world.’

Iceland Noir booking information

Grant Nicol is published by Fahrenheit Press

Desert Island DVDs – Lilja Sigurðardóttir

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Iceland born crime writer Lilja Sigurðardóttir is one of Iceland Noir’s co-organisers. With her fourth crime novel on the way, Lilja is also an award-winning playwright. Her debut play Big Babies (Stóru Börnin) became critically acclaimed and won the Icelandic Theatre Prize Gríman as “Best play of the year” in 2014.

Lilja´s latest thriller, Netið, will be published in Iceland next October by Forlagid publishing. It is the second book in a trilogy about lesbian protagonist Sonia who gets drawn into drug-smuggling in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial meltdown. When almost-retired customs officer Bragi gets interested in her, a cat-and-mouse chase begins so Sonia needs to constantly find new and innovative ways to get the drugs through the border.

The rights to Lilja’s first book have been sold to France, Norway and the Czech Republic. Film rights have been sold to Palomar Pictures.

Outspoken about the importance of more queer characters in fiction and film, Lilja lists some of her favorite DVD´s with lesbian themes.

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Mädchen in Uniform (1958)

‘A second remake of a 1930´s film, the story, that was originally based on a yet older play, is solid enough to have inspired a third remake that became quite popular in the queer crowd, called Loving Annabelle (2006). A young girl is sent to a boarding school and falls in love with her teacher. There is something about the 1958 version that I very much like, the soft light, the boarding school setting, the German language. And of course Lili Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg.’

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The Killing of Sister George (1968)

‘One of my favourite films as it had quite an impact on me when I was very young. I still cannot decide if this film is more horrible than wonderful, as it is a historical document and emotionally had a big meaning for me but at the same time it ridicules and demonizes the butch woman, as is still in fashion today judging by a very recent American prison drama. I still have not met anyone else that likes this film, so maybe it´s just the playwright in me as this film is also based on a play.’

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Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

‘I choose this one from a big group of very alike films as lesbian vampires are an important genre. Firstly a disguised expression of lesbian love and desire created by Hollywood censorship, the lesbian vampire had a big comeback in the 70´s. Some of the many lesbian vampire films created in that era are absolutely priceless! This being one of them. It really doesn´t matter if you don´t understand German. Maybe it´s even better if you don´t’

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101 Reykjavík (2000)

‘Of course I have to have one Icelandic title on the list and because of my theme, it has to be this one. Made in 2000 by one of Iceland´s leading directors Baltasar Kormákur, it tells the story of a thirty year old unemployed man still living with his mother. One day his mum´s flamenco teacher (Victoria Abril) moves in and everything changes. It is a funny film and so very much Reykjavík in essence. And it doesn´t spoil that my friend Hanna María Karlsdóttir plays the mother.’

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The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

‘A feast for ones senses, the Duke of Burgundy, is truly a European film with its multi-national cast and crew. Directed by Peter Strickland and loaded with prizes, this superb piece of cinema stars Sidse Babett Knudsen, whom many people know as the Danish Prime minister from TV-series Borgen. The film´s themes are dominance and submission and it explores how far one can go for love. And then there are moths and butterflies. Lots and lots of moths and butterflies’

Thanks to Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking details

 

Desert Island DVDs – Marsali Taylor

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Shetland based author selects five European screen classics.

Marsali Taylor’s four Shetland-set detective novels starring liveaboard sailor Cass Lynch have gained enthusiastic reviews both here and abroad, with the Shetland setting and characters getting particular praise. A former English and Drama teacher, she’s also published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect as well as books on Shetland’s history. She’s a keen sailor, and an active member of her local drama group. She writes a monthly column in the e-zine Mystery People and is a regular contributor to Mystery Readers She will be appearing at this year’s Iceland Noir literary festival.

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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

‘This astonishing film is one I could watch over and over. It takes us inside the Chauvet Cave in France, which contains paintings from over thirty thousand years ago: cave lions, mammoths, wild horses, aurochs. The floor is littered with the skulls of cave bears, now calcified in glittering white stone, and the paintings themselves are fresh as Picasso studies. An awe-inspiring experience.’

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The Third Man

‘This film is English, but was mostly shot in a nightmarish post-war Vienna, full of piles of rubble and twisted staircases. Joseph Cotten is perfect as naive Holly Martins, looking for his friend Harry (Orson Welles) and gradually having his illusions kicked away. The themes of trust and betrayal, of having to choose between loyalties, are always fresh, and the filming shows black and white at its most atmospheric.’

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Russian Ark

‘A cinematic tour-de-force, this film was shot all in one take, and follows an un-named narrator through the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum. We see various periods of history, but the real star is the cameraman, with the film swooping down staircases, around corners, moving from close-up to wide shot. The ball scene at the end is amazing – the colour, the costumes, the way the camera twirls round the participants. Don’t worry about not understanding all of it – just sit back and feast your eyes.’

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Trollhunter

‘This wonderful sort-of comedy is a Blair Witch style ‘found footage’ story of four Norwegian teenagers who try to follow what they think is a bear-poacher, and find he’s an official Government troll cover-up man. The performances are great, the dead-pan humour is wonderful (for example, the dialogue when the wrong sort of dead bear is brought in to explain the troll cattle-kills), and the special effects are fun. I don’t watch scary stuff, but I loved this one.’

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Gregory’s Girl

‘I had to include a Scottish film while we’re still Europeans. This romantic comedy’s set in a Glasgow suburb, and follows shy, lanky Gregory (the role John Gordon Sinclair has never shaken off) as he tries to win the girl of his dreams – football-mad Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). The running gags, like Steve’s cake-selling empire, or the lost penguin, or Andy’s chat-up attempts, are manic and the end set-piece, with a bemused Gregory being handed from girl to girl, is a delight. Wasted on anyone still close to their teens and a joyous memory-jogger of more innocent days for us older folk.’

Thanks to Marsali Taylor and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking details

Marsali Taylor is published by Accent Press

Desert Island DVDs – Quentin Bates

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Iceland Noir co-founder names his favourite DVDs.

British author Quentin Bates has a strong connection with the land of fire and ice. A gap year in Iceland stretched into a decade. His time living in Iceland coincided with Thatcherism and he returned to the UK with a new family to find his homeland was coming to terms with the aftershocks of the Iron Lady’s policies.

Author of the bestselling series of mystery novels featuring Officer Gunnhildur Gísladóttir from the Reykjavik Serious Crimes Unit. His most recent book Thin Ice is an immersive psychological thriller filled with intriguing characters .

In addition to his careers as novelist and full-time journalist, Quentin has translated Ragnar Jónasson’s highly acclaimed Dark Iceland series for Orenda Books.

Committed to promoting Icelandic crime fiction, Quentin is one of the co-founders of bi-annual literary festival Iceland Noir. This year’s event will take place 17 – 20 November at the Nordic House in Reykjavik. Fans will have the opportunity to attend discussion panels, and tour the streets of Reykjavik accompanied by authors and experience readings of murderous deeds against a backdrop of the city’s locations. The cream of homegrown talent will be there alongside writers from neighbouring Scandinavian countries. Amongst those confirmed to attend are Val McDermid, Leena Lehtolainen, Viveca Sten, Sara Blædel, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Sarah Ward, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, and Ragnar Jónasson .

Taking time out from preparations for this year’s festival, Quentin kindly agreed to talk about his Desert Island DVDs.

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The Night Shift

‘I’ll kick off with The Nightshift. It’s not just one of the best things to come out of Iceland, it’s one of the best things on the screen, full stop. The premise is straightforward enough, and with three guys working a night shift at a suburban petrol station, it could have been just another sitcom. But the spark that brings it to life and makes it so much more than that comes from the three sharply drawn oddball characters, each on the losing side of life in his own way.’

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Jar City

‘This is the film adaptation of Arnaldur Indriðason’s novel. It’s set in a haunting, moody production that showcases a dark side of Iceland that most visitors wouldn’t even suspect exists, let alone see. Ingvar E Sigurðsson makes a fine Erlendur to Mugison’s bizarre soundtrack.’

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Trapped

‘OK, another Icelandic one. It was flawed, maybe a touch over-ambitious, but it was still great. As an extended series on the lines of The Killing and The Bridge, this could have gone badly wrong, but instead makes its mark as Iceland’s contribution to this genre. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir make an odd, mismatched pair of small-town cops in a portrayal of an unnamed coastal village where murder strikes in the dead of winter.’

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The Outlaw

‘The 1981 film adaptation of the Saga of Gísli Sursson, which took place in the Westfjords of Iceland and was filmed not far from where some of the original events took place. It’s a cold, dark, violent representation of dark ages Iceland. For a tragic tale of ancient feuding and sorcery, it’s remarkably historically accurate and also very faithful to the original saga itself.’

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Engrenages

‘To break up the Icelandic theme… It’s called Spiral in its subtitled English version.  It’s set in a rough-and-tumble, brutal Paris stretching from rundown banlieues to the smartest echelons of society. I thought The Killing was great, but for my money, Laure Berthaud, her temper, nervous energy and her seedy sidekicks, have the edge over the introverted Sara Lund.’

Thanks to Quentin Bates and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking details

Quentin’s latest novel Thin Ice is published by Constable