In Search of Paradise
in 15th Palm Springs International Film Festival
by Lucy Virgen
The Icelandic young man, Nói (Nói albinoi, Dagur Kári, Iceland 2003) watches near in ecstasy through a View Master 3-D viewer. He is watching, while standing on ice, his paradise: a perfect beach, white sands, turquoise waters, palm trees included. The real inhabitants of that beach, another Noi this time a young Thai woman and Kenji, a Japanese with a past as uncertain as his future are not that happy in Last Life in the Universe (Pe-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand 2003). For a start they complain about the heat, to finish Kenji is trying, once a day to commit suicide. They yearns for the comfort Nói, the Icelandic found in the visor, they could find it in the warm weather, the sand, the palm trees.
Both films move at the same pace calm, slowly but in a relaxed way, the three characters are linked by some sort of ennui, that could turn despair. Their burden is the burden of a great part of humanity in the 21th century: unemployment and lack of hope. They are not desperately poor and hungry as the characters in La primera noche (Luis Alberto Restrepo, Colombia, 2003) or in Osama (Siddiq Barmak. Afghanistan 2003) and their need of spiritual nourishment surpases, most of the time, their physical needs but they do need a job and also companionship. McLuhan was right the village is global but not because of the telecommunication but mostly in the people in every part of the world looking for a job, to fill their stomach as well as fulfill their spiritual needs.
Noi, the Icelandic is a gifted teenager that was expelled from school because of his behavior. His grandmother asks the town’s clairvoyant for guidance. He is not the stereotypical flamboyant gipsy but a mechanic in a grey jumpsuit who can give career advice not mumbojumbo about love life. The director tell to us, in a very calm not flashy way, that Noi is intelligent, clumsy, a petty thief and he had a dream, because the clairvoyant we know he also has a fate.
Kenji is a reader, neurotically neat, suicidal, allergic to fish, he is trying to scape the yakuza as well as the police and commit suicide at the same time and most importantly he does not has a dream, or maybe his dream is just a peaceful death. Noi, the thai girl has a dream, not leave the prostitution, which is a fate as strong as the one in Noi the Icelandic. She just wants to go to Osaka and escape from her abusive pimp.
Noi and Last Life in the Universe are candidates for the Oscar to the Best Foreign Film for Iceland and Thailand. Noi is a brilliant first feature and Last Life the expected film of a cult director, both seemed to love and are mesmerized for the beauty of their countries, the kind of landscape you seldom find in a travel logue. Their characters could have the vicissitudes of any man on earth but they are citizens of the ice or the sand more than anything else. The cinematography reflects exactly that in the sometimes sheltering sometimes menacing iceberg, in the house that is about to be taken over by the rain forrest.
The films also are linked, and lessen their chances to an Oscar because both have love stories but no sex. Attraction and ultimately love is in Iceland as well as in Thailand a way to have the company of somebody like you. Noi finds Iris a girl “taking a break from the hectic life in the city”. Kenji finds Noi just after a car crash. After that both couples are isolated, by sand or snow, in their search for paradise or a bliss as Kenji write in every one of his suicidal notes but also in their search for an Oscar.
© FIPRESCI 2004