email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest


Review: Summerlight... And Then Comes the Night


- Elfar Aðalsteins looks on the highs and lows of small-town Icelandic life with a well-meaning but sentimental eye

Review: Summerlight... And Then Comes the Night
Víkingur Kristjánsson and Svandis Dora Einarsdottir in Summerlight... And Then Comes the Night

In a sparsely populated place like Iceland, small-town life is bound to look very different from what many of us might be used to, from real life or from films and TV series. Elfar AðalsteinsSummerlight... And Then Comes the Night, which closed this year’s Reykjavík International Film Festival and is adapted from Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s novel, is set in a tiny Icelandic village, but its inhabitants all live quite a distance from one another – a geographical setup ideal for this kind of quirky and sweet-natured ensemble film familiar from most national film industries, about just how different yet similar we human beings are.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

What sets the film apart from most such movies, however, is its voice-over (which appears to be nothing less than the village itself speaking), which insists on summing up the various short stories that make it up with very sentimental platitudes. But while they make the universal echoes of those stories explicit, these interruptions by the disembodied female voice in fact flatten the stakes, making the individual tragedies, desires and loves of the characters appear more trivial. Though they may not be of great import to the world at large, they all represent moments of seismic changes in the characters’ lives.

This unfortunate sentimental treatment is more regrettable for some of the stories than for others. That of the factory boss who one day dreams in Latin and decides to start leading a much more introspective life feels less suited to this bird’s-eye-view treatment than that of the farmer who begins an intense sexual affair with a woman who jogs by his house every day. The contrast between the two may well have been touching in the original novel, painting a picture of human nature in all its many different shades. The film, however, does not manage to find an approach that makes the emotional whiplash between those stories (and, often, within a single story) feel genuine and unforced.

The sometimes dark, sometimes absurdist comedy (courtesy of actor Þorsteinn Bachmann, most of all) peppered throughout does help navigate tonal shifts. In fact, the cast as a whole is what most anchors the film to a semblance of reality, each actor doing justice to often paper-thin characters with performances that thankfully steer clear of caricature.

Without going so far as to call Iceland itself a “character” here, it is fair to say that the location is the most interesting part of Summerlight..., its contrasting landscape literally providing the ground for stories that, like it, are beautiful one instant and cruel the next. Perhaps this place, and the many dramas that take place every day on its soil, need not be so neatly packaged.

Summerlight... And Then Comes the Night was produced by Iceland’s Berserk Films and Pegasus Pictures.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy