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.
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.
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.
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.