Talking Pictures

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Volcano Ifaistein

Posted by keith1942 on April 28, 2012

Hannes with his boat.


Iceland / Denmark. 2011, In colour with subtitles. 95 minutes.


This is one of the New Features at the Bradford International Film Festival and is part of the European Features Competition. It is both written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Rúnar Rúnarsson. The splendid cinematography is by Sophia Olsson. The opening credits roll over digitised images of fire at night, eruptions and shadowy onlookers. A choir accompanies the images. Then we cut to a contemporary school where superintendent Hannes (Theodór Júliusson) is handing over to his successor. He is clearly a martinet, and apparently not much liked by either staff or pupils. We see his sparse retirement party and then he locks up the building.

Instead of going home he drives to a desolate spot where he attempts suicide, then changes his mind. At home he complains about his grandson Kári (Agúst Örn B. Wigum) who is playing in the garden. We met Hannes’ son Ari (Porsteinn Bachmann) and daughter Telmo (Elma Lisa Gunnarsdóttir), also his wife Anna (Margrét Helga Jóhandsdóttir). Again it is clear that his children dislike him and his long-suffering wife is the butt of his ill humours. It appears that his only pleasure in life is fishing in an old boat. As the film develops Hannes’ boat nearly sinks and he has it bought to his garden so that he can repair and repaint it. At the same time we discover that real emotion still exists between Hannes and Anna. Then she has a severe stroke and is hospitalised. Over the opposition of his children Hannes insists on his wife being returned to their house where he undertakes the full time, all day and all night, care of his comatosed wife.

We then watch as he learns to care for the invalid. And at the same timer a sort of relationship develops between Hannes and his grandson Kári. Indeed as his own children’s attitude toward him starts to soften.

We never really learn what has soured Hannes, though a selection of old photographs show a loving couple with happy, smiling children. We do learn that 37 years earlier Hannes and Anna had to leave their more remote island home after a volcanic eruption. They have considered returning from time to time, but never managed this. The close of the film sees just such a return to their Island home for a funeral and our last shot of Hannes is on a cliff-top staring out at the sea.

This is a film, if not about reconciliation, at least about growth and development. I would guess that an audience’s attitude towards Hannes will change as he develops in unexpected ways. Both visually and aurally the film reinforces the sense of cold distance that dominates our introduction to the characters. It uses the framing of doors and windows to show the separation that blights relationships. There are evocative silences and the musical accompaniment is sparse. Appropriately, apart from two choral riffs, the music relies on violins, viola and cello. This is what is now being described as ‘slow cinema’. We watch listen and re-evaluate our judgements.

The Nordic and Scandinavian cinemas seem to have a forte of addressing grief and trauma. I was reminded of the films of Suzanne Bier and of Dogme. The film also uses such large, powerful close-ups but not incessantly. There are also telling long shots where the landscape reflects and reflects upon the characters. The performances, especially by Júliusson, are excellent.

An impressive film work and compelling to view.



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