"Jar City": Murder Icelandic Style By Anita Piotrowska

in 42nd Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by Anita Piotrowska

Awarded with the Crystal Globe Prize, Jar City (Myrin), an Iceland and Germany co-production from 2006, masterfully reworks a classic crime story by giving it a thrilling individual touch. Somehow aiming to create an Icelandic response to David Cronenberg’s carnal obsessions invites a viewer to its own exeptional world where a typical Icelandic murder — messy and pointless (as one of characters says at the beginning of the film) successfully becomes a journey into the bleak sides of human nature. The director Baltasar Kormákur, recognized as a director of such titles as 101 Reykjavik (2000) or The Sea (2002), plays with viewers expectations and complicates the plot sometimes to the verge of comprehensibility, but not just for clever entertainment or for boasting with his unquestionable skills.

On the first level we have a crime story referring to the mysterious murder of an old man that took place in a quiet Icelandic community. A paralel action deals with the death of a small girl affected by an unknown genetically transmitted brain disease. Erlendur, an exhausted local policeman, tries desperately to connect these two lines, but he has also his own personal problems caused mainly by his drug-addicted daughter. Under the surface of these events another story appears. Following Erlendur’s investigations we discover the world of local secrets and family lies, the murky world of sex and death, of genetic researches and body exhumations. At the same time we meet people who are obsessed with searching for the truth. But most of them seem to be completely unarmed for approaching evil and pain. And they seem lost and isolated in their efforts. This additional level reveals to us in a way this atmospheric film has been photographed. There are a few moments when we see the Jar City area from a vey distant perspective and often from above — what can provoke some spiritual interpretations of the film. The loneliness and the absurdity of existence are underlined by the presence of nature. The dramatic Northern landscape and the harsh climate certainly influence the everyday life of the film protagonists. The intense portrait of the city built on marshland makes us almost feel the odour of rotting things — not mentioning the rotting corpses hidden in the basements or the rotten relationships marked by the dark events from the past.

Another special ingredient of the film‘s atmosphere is its magnificent music, especially the choir songs we hear in the soundtrack. Using such a serious music commentary Kormákur may have achieved a rather comic effect like Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom TV series. Fortunately, Kormákur follows its own way, showing his ability to keep the balance between the visionary thriller and the subtle absurd comedy. And surprisingly Kormákur finds space for a real human drama in between. Admittedly, though, what makes the strongest impression in Jar City is its haunting visual style. The film adaptation of Arnaldur Indri?ason’s detective novel delights from the first moment with its cinematographic breath and clever editing. From the very beginning Kormákur creates the fully coherent microcosm in which we are able to believe unconditionally.