Monday Movie: 101 Reykjavik, by David Bax
Baltasar Kormákur has carved out a place for himself in the Hollywood machine by directing above-average, brawny, multiplex fare like the recent Everest and 2013’s underrated 2 Guns (the best that can be said about 2012’s Contraband is that it’s not worth mentioning). Given the tenor of his English-language output, it’s interesting to recall that the Icelandic filmmaker first made his mark with 2000’s 101 Reykjavík, a small and unassuming but refreshingly eccentric indie dramedy.
Superficially, 101 Reykjavík is just another of the countless low-budget tales of grumpy, white, male slackers that flooded the cinematic landscape at the end of the twentieth century. Yet, it possesses enough elements that are uniquely Icelandic to set it apart. Hlynur (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) has no use for a job at 29 years old, living with his mother (Hanna María Karlsdóttir) and receiving government assistance. His depression seems to be replicated in that time of year when Reykjavík sees daylight for only a few short hours at a time. He even attempts suicide by simply laying down on a mountain during a snowstorm.
What finally brings Hlynur out of his shell is the arrival of his mother’s friend Lola (Victora Abril), a flamenco instructor from Spain. Left to their own devices, Hlynur and Lola have a brief, drunken tryst only a short time before Hlynur realizes that Lola and his mother are a little bit more than just friends. Hlynur reaction is a darkly low-key kind of acting out. What separates him from his movie-slacker contemporaries is that his crankiness is not a mere smokescreen. This young man is a true misanthrope and being out of his shell is less a catharsis and more the awakening of a monster.
Kormákur may not have found room for the gunfights and special effects that pepper his more recent work but his ability as an economical and distinct visual storyteller are on display here. 101 Reykjavík is briskly paced, with a visual style just personalized enough to fall short of attention grabbing. Add in some fantasies of mass murder, hints of incestuous desire and a score co-written by Damon Albarn and you’ve got a movie that may be very of its time, yes, but one that more than manages to stand out.