DVD Review: 101 Reykjavik

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Offbeat Icelandic slacker comedy.

One of Iceland’s most prolific directors, Baltasar Kormákur has helmed a number of films that have been commercially successful both at home and abroad. Best known internationally for Contraband, 2 Guns, and Everest his oeuvre also includes the highly regarded Icelandic films Jar City and The Deep. A career as an actor on stage and screen preceded his move behind the camera. Kormákur continues to act and has appeared in several of his own feature films.

For his directorial debut Kormákur adapted Hallgrimur Helgason’s breakthrough novel. This idiosyncratic and bleakly comedic snapshot of pre financial crash hedonistic youth pays homage to Pedro Almodovar’s early films and effortlessly merges art house and mainstream cinema in a film which presents an ironic portrait of a generation.

Taking its name from the district where its characters live 101 Reykjavik presents a contemporary Icelandic Saga as a highly accentuated comedy of errors. Male repression and extended infantalism is contrasted with examples of female dynamism and determination as mother and son compete for the affections of a Spanish lover. Emotionally stunted Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) is in his early thirties living with his mother determined to live on welfare payments until he reaches pensionable age.

Insulated from the consequences of his actions by a laid back mother, he is unknowingly imprisoned by self-imposed lack of curiosity about the world beyond his district. Determinately disassociated from adult life, Hlynur spends his days gazing at internet pornography and evenings consuming a diet of soft drugs and alcohol.

Hilmir Snaer Gudnason delivers a performance pitched with an equal balance of pathos, cynicism, and vulnerability. Never straying into the realms of parody or sentimentality he conveys a complex myriad of emotions and traces an increasingly poignant journey as Hlynur’s certainties are eroded forcing the anti-hero to chose between a descent into inner turmoil or an embracing of personal responsibility.

Kormákur’s insightful and non-judgemental screenplay is brought to life by a succession of humane and honest performances. Explicitly acknowledging Almodovar’s influence Kormákur cast Victoria Abril (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) as the Spanish flamenco instructor who sleeps with Hlynur and then reveals herself as his mother’s lesbian lover.

Released at a time when Iceland was becoming fashionable as a travel destination, Kormákur’s film’s cultural cachet was enhanced by a knowing score from Blur’s Damon Albarn and The Sugarcubes’ Einar Benediktsson.

Unsentimental and wry, 101 Reykjavik is a dark and eccentric character study. Hlynur’s internal monologue is complemented by crisp, clear and unadorned cinematography which captures the stark beauty of an Icelandic winter.

A strong debut from Baltasar Kormákur and an ideal stepping on point for an exploration into Icelandic cinema’s rich history.

101 Reykjavik is available to order from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/101-Reykjavik-Hilmir-Sn%C3%A6r-Gu%C3%B0nason/dp/B00005NCZA/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1448850127&sr=1-1&keywords=101+reykjavik

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