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Review: The Deposit


- Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir’s new feature, based on Auður Jónsdóttir’s novel of the same name, is a compelling psychological drama

Review: The Deposit
Claire Kristinsdóttir, Raffaella Brizuela Sigurðardóttir, Enid Mbabazi and Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir in The Deposit

Gísella (Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir) is a troubled 40-year-old Icelandic journalist drowning in debt, who decides – nonetheless – to quit her stable job, as she aspires to write more hard-hitting stories and is uncomfortable with her boss’s editorial line. In her desperate search for a new occupation, she ends up writing a freelance article about the current housing crisis that the country is facing. While looking deeper into the matter, she decides to rent out two spare bedrooms in her Reykjavík home to three immigrant women: Marisol from Colombia (Raffaella Brizuela Sigurðardóttir), Abeba from Uganda (Enid Mbabazi) and her nine-year-old daughter, Luna (Claire Kristinsdóttir). The British premiere of Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir’s The Deposit [+see also:
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is taking place as part of the European Perspectives Strand of the 2019 Edinburgh Film Festival, and the movie is in the running for the festival’s Audience Award.

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The story, based on Auður Jónsdóttir’s best-selling book of the same name, published in 2006, has all the right ingredients to make a compelling psychological drama, and that it is. Kjartansdóttir wrote and directed this feature wisely, avoiding predictable characters and dialogues, and portraying the vicissitudes of four complex women, all with a troubled backstory and uncomfortable with their lives. Viewers will realise that the central theme here is not integration and its challenges, but rather cultural isolation and a chronic fear of strangers, deeply rooted in Icelandic society. Kjartansdóttir’s Reykjavík is a modern, wealthy city with very high standards of living, but is not exempt from prejudice and closed-mindedness, both legacies of a past characterised by remoteness and mistrust of the outside world.

Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir (Vultures, XL [+see also:
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interview: Marteinn Thorsson and Ólafu…
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, Frost), the only professional actress to be playing a lead role here, imbues Gísella with just the right dose of uncertainty, emotional instability and obsession. It is also worth mentioning the commendable work of the other three female characters on screen, all newcomers to the acting scene.

Overall, the film’s cinematography (courtesy of DoP Ásgrímur Guðbjartsson) is visually astonishing in its simplicity and excellent at conveying the tense atmospheres of the plot as well as Gísella’s gradual evolution towards paranoia and depression. Her lavish apartment is dominated by blue-and-white reflections, chiaroscuros and dim lights, perhaps a metaphor for her troubled soul – Gísella was once a happier woman, but is now driven by self-interest, desperation and cruelty.

The pace of the narration is rather uniform but is nonetheless engaging; the arrangement and the rules established by Gísella begin well but soon spiral into her worst nightmare, as she loses control of her apartment and her sanity.

Finally, Kjartansdóttir’s first fiction feature is a great psychological drama. The movie is rich in intense dialogues, boasts an elegant mise-en-scène and demonstrates the director’s superb knowledge of the acting profession. In addition, the soundtrack, composed by Kira Kira, serves the film’s purposes well, and does so in an effective and understated manner.

The Deposit was produced by Eva Sigurðardóttir for Reykjavík-based firms Askja Films and by Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir for Rebella Filmworks, with the support of the Icelandic Film Centre. Sena Film is in charge of its distribution in Iceland, while its international sales are handled directly by the producers.

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