This novella by Icelandic writer, Sjon, is an interesting exploration of a young man making his way in the world. Gay and prepared to take money for favours, our hero exists in Reykjavik in 1918 when a terrible flu epidemic hit the city.
This tragedy serves as a background to a story of a young man, Mani, who is in love with the cinema because it offers dreams of another life and who becomes an apprentice to a doctor during the worst of the crisis. He goes into houses to find people at the edge of death or, in some cases, finds their corpses instead.
Mani is not ashamed of being gay and enjoys his encounters with his men as much as he likes the cinema. This is not an anguished coming of age tale or rather the anguish is confined to the terrible events in the city. Yet, there is an encounter with a Danish sailor at the independence celebrations. It is this meeting that sends his life off in another direction. Mani may be happy to be gay but he lives in a society that does not share his pride.
In such a short book, Sjon covers issues of belonging, identity and the threat on society from outside. Flu, homosexuals and the cinema all act as alien influences in 1918 Reykjavik.
There is a coda that serves to connect the story to the author. It explains, at last, the sub-title of the book: The Boy Who Never Was.
The Channel Four strand ‘Walter Presents…’ is a fantastic way of discovering television from across the world. I loved this hard- hitting drama from Iceland even though the subject matter under discussion by the detectives was grim.
A teenage girl is found hanging in the theatre in Reykjavik in what is an apparent suicide. This is the start of a stream of events that unravel showing how vulnerable young women are treated by disreputable men.
At the heart of it is Gabriela, a determined detective who investigates the case while lawyers acting on child protection cases also take an interest. Also involved is a chaotic, alcoholic lawyer called Logi. What starts as a police procedural soon becomes something more complex as lawyers, family and police all try to sort out what led to a promising ballerina killing herself on stage.
In the course of the series, it becomes clear that polite society in Iceland isn’t! The central plot is hard to see at first since there are blind alleys involving the ballet company’s bullying ballet master, the youth worker with an unhealthy interest in his charges, and the use of websites to humiliate and expose.
Complexity makes the series worth watching. The first two episodes seem to head in one direction only for the third episode to open up a new route. It is worth pursuing to the end. ‘Case’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This Icelandic film by director Rúnar Rúnarsson is worth watching. Atli Oskar Fjalarsson is Ari, the young man who has to leave his home in Reykjavik when his mother and her new husband go abroad to work. Ari has to return to live with his father in the remote Western fjords of Iceland. Neither father nor son are pleased with the new arrangement but Ari’s grandmother is the social glue who makes it all work.
Isolated in his new home, Ari tries to make friends and join in with other people of his age. This is not easy since his friendship with a girl from his past creates hostility between him and her new boyfriend. He is the outsider even in his own home; his father is used to the single life and his friends are not suitable role models since they mostly gather to drink and sleep around. An incident involving the grandmother changes things further for both father and son.
Ari’s difference is shown from the opening scene where, still in Reykjavik, he sings in a choir with a voice that is pure and that reaches heights most other youths of his age would not manage. His contemporaries seem free of adult interference so Ari has to negotiate their codes by himself. This is a coming of age film that is poignant in its portrayal of youth but which does not resort to easy answers. Whether Ari triumphs in his new home is left unanswered and it is in the judgement of the viewer to decide if he is content by the end of the film.
Atli Oskar Fjalarsson was so affecting in the film ‘Jitters’ and here he plays another young man out of step with others around him. Director Rúnar Rúnarsson made a short film called ‘Two Birds’ also starring Atli Oskar Fjalarsson. The theme of that film is expanded here but, with the actor quite a bit older, the final effect is much more satisfying.
‘Sparrows’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In this Icelandic film directed by Baldvin Z, 16 year old Gabriel experiences his first kiss and it gives him the ‘jitters’. The kiss takes place in England while he is on a residential language course to improve his English. When he returns to Iceland, he cannot get the kiss out of his mind. The fact is the person he kissed was another boy, called Markus, and, back in Reykjavik, Gabriel wonders how to continue the relationship.
Markus looks as if he is no longer interested; a scene where he sits kissing a girl at a party while Gabriel sits forlornly nearby is particularly affecting. There is a lot happening elsewhere, though, in this film about teens coming to terms with growing up and away from family. Gabriel acts as the shoulder to cry on for many of his friends but when a friend of a friend tries to get him to sleep with her, he realises that only the kiss from Markus gave him the ‘jitters’. Whatever the future of that relationship, he understands that he is gay.
Atli Oskar Fjalarsson plays Gabriel as a sweet young man who offers support to his friends and expects little in return. His search for love takes second place to the needs of others. The ending is worth waiting for, if only to see if happiness comes his way. Love is where it falls!
‘Jitters’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?