Film Review: ‘Taste of Iceland’ Film Festival — A Delicious Smorgasbord

If these efforts are representative of Icelandic cinema, it is time for movie lovers to start paying much closer attention.

A scene from the documentary about wild horses "Herd In Iceland."

A scene from the documentary about wild horses “Herd In Iceland.”

By Paul Dervis

Boston was treated to a diverse and fascinating collection of short feature films and documentaries last weekend at Cambridge’s Kendall Square Cinema. Offering a comprehensive view of the island’s political, environmental, and financial issues, the films that made up the Taste of Iceland film festival were a compelling lot. And the house was packed.

The most riveting film was the first. Written and directed Borkur Sigborsson, Come to Harm is a short thriller that follows Stefan through an oddly disturbing day and night. His work life is in turmoil and his wife won’t pick up the phone when he calls, even when she is staring at him out her office window. He goes home and decides to relax in a hot shower. But he hears a noise.

Is there an intruder in the house? Is it a home invasion? Will his child come home into this nightmare?

Stefan calls the police, but they are slow to arrive. He tells the emergency phone operator that he will get his rifle and protect himself. He’s told not to. Is the operator really with the police, or is everybody in cahoots with the intruders?

Or is any of this really happening? This is a terse and deeply chilling film, and the ending is anything but predictable.

Come to Harm has the feel of a demo for a full-length feature. Although only twenty minutes long, it has a strong enough concept/storyline to be expanded into a full-length film. Here’s hoping that this project is in Sigborsson’s future.

Sker, another short feature, is a dark comedy about a kayaker out for a day on the water. He lands on a little slip of land in the sea and takes a break, pulling the vessel ashore. But he doesn’t secure it and the boat drifts away. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the tide comes in and the slip of land goes under. When all seems lost — water is covering over half the protagonist’s body — a small boat comes into view, ready (perhaps) to come to his rescue. The conclusion of this piece is both humorous and sad.

Revolution Reykjavik deals with social issues, specifically the traumatic aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse. Gudfinna works in the finance industry, but once the economy crumbles the aging woman finds herself without a job. With no salary coming in or legitimate prospects, she finds her own finances dwindling to nothing in a shockingly short time.

The funniest piece in the festival was a post-film school project entitled Homo. Three friends go to extreme lengths to make a fourth feel comfortable after he comes out of the closet. The buddies decide to camp themselves up, dressing up in utterly ridiculous costumes that border on the offensive.

The best documentary in the group was Herd in Iceland. Although produced and directed by Americans, the film was shot in Iceland. It explores the lives of the herds of beautiful ‘free-range’ horses that roam Iceland’s countryside. We meet their caretakers, from teenagers to the elders, who take part in the annual round-up.

Not all the films were as entertaining, and at least one was an odd choice. A very British film, Good Night, was included in the festival because its producer was from Iceland. But, when seen in the context of the other entries, the movie felt out of place — it was neither as absorbing nor as original as the majority of the screenings.

But the weak films were few and far between. If these efforts are representative of Icelandic cinema, it is time for movie lovers to start paying much closer attention.

Paul Dervis has been teaching drama in Canada at Algonquin College as well as the theatre conservatory Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for the past 15 years. Previously he ran theatre companies in Boston, New York, and Montreal. He has directed over 150 stage productions, receiving two dozen awards for his work. Paul has also directed six films, the most recent being 2011’s The Righteous Tithe.

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