DVD Review: Hlemma Video

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One man’s quest for meaning involves late fines, roast beef sandwiches, and Tokyo Drift.

Siggi Hlemmur (Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon – The Night Shift) is at a crossroads in his life. Recently made redundant, he has been unable to find new work as a printer. Seperated from his fiance he mistakenly believes she will return when her current relation has burnt itself out. Forced to move out of their apartment, he now lives with his mother.

Filling the day performing errands, Siggi visits his father’s business to put up some shelves. While clearing an area to work in his father dies in a freak accident.

hlemma

Siggi’s life is given purpose when he is left his father’s video rental library. A historic shop, it was the first rental library to open in Iceland. Alongside the latest releases, it stocks a selection of cult classics that are unavailable elsewhere in the country. Once ahead of the curve, the shop has struggled to adapt to technological changes. Opening in 1979 with the nation’s largest collection of V2000 cassettes, it soon had to switch to Betamax when customers bought the then new machines. Having survived the demise of VHS, the shop upgraded its stock to include DVDs and Blu-rays and its existence is now threatened by illegal downloading.

Unsure if he wants to spend the rest of his life working in the shop Siggi contemplates opening a detective agency. Mistakenly convinced of his ability to see patterns in things and people that others miss he is thrown in at the deep end when he’s assigned his first case. As word spreads that the video rental library is headquarters for Iceland’s only private detective agency he is engaged to investigate take on ever-bizarre assignments only to be plunged into a real mystery when the discovery of a privately filmed porn video sets in motion a chain of events which will lead him on a trail to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

Video libraries may have vanished from UK high streets but they still survive in Iceland. Quentin Tarantino used his experience working in one as the springboard to his career. Kevin Smith set his directorial debut in one. Would an offbeat detective-comedy series set in a Reykjavik store work? The answer is a resounding yes.

Demonstrating that crime can be funny, Hlemma Video is a  spirited, quirky, affectionate homage to the genre stuffed with film and TV references. Spotting nods makes the series endlessly re-watchable. Some of the shows best moments parody well-known sequences. It’s almost impossible to pick out a best reference but if pressed the sight of Siggi wearing a clown costume trying to dispose of a bomb in a direct echo of a famous scene from the Adam West Batman movie is one the series’ funniest moments.

Veering between absurdity, black comedy, and realism, Sigurjón Kjartansson and lead actor Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon’s sharply written script celebrates video library culture and is scathing in its condemnation of corrupt officials and rapacious property speculators.

A DVD for anyone who has worked in a video library, rented a tape, or dreamt about being a detective.

A subtitled DVD is available to order from Nammi.is

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