Paris of the North: Strong performances and biting humour from Iceland
by Laurence Boyce
- Premiering in Karlovy Vary’s International Competition, Paris of the North is a melancholic Icelandic comedy from the director of Either Way
After his brittle comedy-drama Either Way [+see also:
interview: Hafstein Gunnar Sigurdsson
interview: Hilmar Gudjônsson - Shootin…
film profile] (which gained notoriety after being made into US film Prince Avalanche), the second feature by Icelandic director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Paris of the North [+see also:
film profile], once again deals with the ideas of isolation and the hell of one’s own friends and relations.
Hugi is a teacher in a small Icelandic village, dealing with a breakup and subsequent alcohol problems. Enter Hugi’s father Veigar, a grizzled hedonist who decides to come and visit, and inevitably causes chaos in his son’s life. As Veigar begins a relationship with a woman that Hugi has already had an on/off romance with, things begin to spiral out of control, and the two are soon set for a showdown. But then an incident redefines their relationship (as well as making sure that audiences will never look at a rubber band in the same way again).
This is a tight piece of work that sets an intimate relationship drama against the vastness and majesty of Iceland’s mountains and countryside. The humour is dry and biting, with Huldar Breiðfjörð’s script bringing forth some well-observed moments of absurdity. The performances are strong, with Helgi Björnsson and Björn Thors striking up a good chemistry as father and son, and each finding a nice balance between outward bravado and gruffness, and inner fragility. Much of the success of the feature is also due to Sigurðsson being able to balance the small, self-contained moments of the film with wild bursts of energy (such as a scene in which Hugi goes off the rails). Mention must also be made of the fantastic soundtrack by Icelandic artist Prins Póló.
With Sigurðsson’s relative notoriety, arthouse distributors may well try to snap this one up, especially if they are thinking that there will be an American remake. And a healthy festival run seems assured.