Finally, a coming-of-age-story that fires on all cylinders and readily falls into the category of fine art rather than mere storytelling.
Writer-director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson has crafted an entirely believable, emotionally rich tale of two young teens in a small village in Iceland who begin to have feelings for one another which, they have been led to believe, can only guarantee a life of misery.
Precocious, happy-in-my-white-briefs Thor (Baldur Einarsson soars through the demanding role like a seasoned professional) is seemingly inseparable from best friend Christian (the camera savours every frame with blonde/toned Blær Hinriksson whose breakdown scenes—whether underwater or in a barn—will deeply resonate with anyone who has ever felt the pain of being different). Over the course of a summer, the pair playfully joke about faggots but Christian is longing for more than a quick, harmless kiss or feel.
Both boys are surrounded by dysfunctional families that every once in a while show compassion and love.
Guðmundsson artfully weaves the metaphors of life, death and rejection into the narrative’s fabric through the use of wildlife: a proudly caught bucket of fish deteriorates into a cesspool of inedible rot; sheep likely infected by a rapid wild dog must be incinerated; dead seabirds wash up on the shore; yet the bookend of the dreaded—for fisherman, at least—bullrouts offer the twin pillars of destructive scorn and “live to fight another day.”
Bullies abound: from the bigoted, ignorant spoutings of aptly named, Ginger, to Thor’s sisters (tart-in-training Rakel—Jónína Þórdís Karlsdóttir; poet-in-the-making Hafdís—Rán Ragnarsdóttir)—the former finally gets a taste of his own medicine while the latter come to embrace rather than mock their younger brother.
As a cover for their growing move towards all things lavender, two girls are worked into the mix to add depth to the confusion (Diljá Valsdóttir most empathetic as Beth, realizing before Thor does which team he is on, while Katla Njálsdóttir’s Hanna has no qualms telling Christian his own truth—almost to deadly effect).
Beyond the first-rate rate cast, it is Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s inventive cinematography (long shots to die for; telling close-ups) and Kristian Eidnes Andersen’s mallet-rich, quietly personal original score that add further depth to this rollercoaster of simmering love, possible joy and dark despair.
Still beyond that, it is Guðmundsson’s courageous decision to use silence as his developmental ace, letting the audience and the characters imagine collectively just how they ever got to “this place.”
Fortunately, there is some light at the end of the cinematic tunnel; if only more real-life cases of “forbidden love” ended in optimism and hope instead of abject pain and “If only I had… [fill in your own blank].” JWR