Film Review: The Homecoming

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An author of self-help books is in denial about his own problems.

Bestselling author Gunnar ((Hilmar Jónsson) is tired of writing self-help books. Contractually committed to producing another three titles he suggests the publisher repackage earlier books. Success has paid for homes in the city and countryside. Despite the rewards, he is prepared to walk away from a highly profitable career.

Famed for advising people how to reach inner peace, his own life is fracturing. Gestur’s marriage is in trouble and long-forgotten secrets are about to turn his world upside down.

Best known for his performances in Jar City, The Lava Field, Trapped, and Fortitude, writer-director Björn Hlynur Haraldsson is one of the co-founders of Icelandic theatre company Vesturport. Based on his stageplay, The Homecoming is Björn Hlynur’s cinematic directorial debut.

An unpredictable tragi-comedy, it’s treatment of genuinely dark subject matter may unsettle some viewers. On the surface this may appear to be a credulity-stretching Nordic farce but peel back the layers and be rewarded with a humorous take on the dangers of living in a small and interconnected society.

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Gestur’s son has returned from holiday with a new girlfriend. A decades-old secret is about to be exposed as the father is confronted with the daughter he abandoned 25 years ago. The writer of countless self-help books has no idea how to cope with this crisis. Already showing signs of mid-life malaise, Gestur’s behaviour alarms his wife and son as he tries to sabotage the relationship without revealing his youthful infidelity.

While Nordic Noir has crossed over into the mainstream, Icelandic comedies are largely unknown in the UK. The Night Shift and Rams have found an appreciative audience but a wider cycle of darkly humorous films and TV series confronting taboos has yet to be released here.

Will The Homecoming be the film to crossover and introduce Icelandic gallows humour (or gálgahúmor as it’s known in Iceland) to a wider marketplace? In an increasingly anodyne age, the fact that The Homecoming even exists is remarkable.

Undoubtedly an acquired taste, the film confronts  some weighty subject matter head-on and will make you laugh at the darker side of life.

The Homecoming is screening at the Nordic-Baltic Film Festival.

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