Isolation and Loneliness in Iceland

in 26th Göteborg International Film Festival

by Taneli Topelius

Of the eight films in the Nordic competition at the Göteborg International Film Festival 2003, two of the most interesting ones dealt with isolation and loneliness. The Danish film Fear X by Nicolas Winding Refn used sorrow for a wife’s death as a springboard for obsessive quest to find out what happened to her. Nói Albinói (Noi the Albino) by first time director Dagur Kari presented a small Icelandic village with a frustrated young man who longs for more meaningful life somewhere else.

Although Fear X had lots of ambitious visions and mystifying images to share, it was Nói Albinói that delivered the heart as well and who won the FIPRESCI jury award. Seventeen-year-old Noi is seen as too smart for his surroundings. He is always trying to find out something interesting to do and at the same time he is trying to avoid the tasks that are expected of him, like going to school.

Instead, Noi sends his father’s tape recorder to school and passes time chatting with a local bookstore owner or the nice city girl Iris, who works in a local gas station. Together Noi and Iris dream of leaving this isolated place. Whereas for Iris these dreams are a form of play, for Noi they represent an escape to a better world.

Set in a remote fjord surrounded by big threatening mountains and astounding amounts of snow, Nói Albinói is full of beautiful images, small details and warm humor that engulfs the protagonist’s actions. Nothing comes the easy way. When Noi gets a job as a gravedigger the ground turns out to be frozen and unpenetrable. When Noi and his alcoholic father try to enjoy a nice evening in a local karaoke bar, Noi gets thrown out because of mixing his own liqueur with house lemonade.

Even the romance with Iris is not a matter of course. Her father, the bookstore owner, resents the fact that Iris and Noi would go for a date because he thinks he knows Noi too well. Of course, the point of Nói Albinói is that no one really knows what’s best for Noi, not even himself. That’s why the deus ex machina ending appears both as tragic and hopeful at the same time. While Noi has earned his way out, it seems to come at a very high price.

The other six films in Göteborg’s Nordic competition 2003 were Sprickorna I Muren (A Breach in the Wall, by Jimmy Karlsson, Sweden), Falkar (Falcons, by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Iceland), Kopps (by Josef Fares, Sweden), Lykkevej (Move Me, by Morten Arnfred, Denmark), Raid (by Tapio Piirainen, Finland) and Himmerfall (The Sky is Falling Down, by Gunnar Vikene, Norway).