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Nói Albinoi (2003)

Nói, Noi the Albino

Starring:

Anna Fridriksdóttir

Elín Hansdóttir

Gérard Lemarquis

Greipur Gislason

Guðmundur Olafsson

Haraldur Jónsson

Hjalti Rögnvaldsson

Kjartan Bjargmundsson

Pétur Einarsson

Svein Geirsson

Tómas Lemarquis

Þorstein Gunnarsson

Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson

Directed by:

Dagur Kári

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 0 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

In a small village at the foot of a snowy mountain in the West-Fjords of Iceland, bald-headed seventeen year old Nói (Tómas Lemarquis) is a misfit. Preferring to sit alone in the cellar of the house where he lives with his dotty grandmother (Anna Fridriksdóttir) than to attend school, he seems headed for a life of petty crime, or at least low-paid work and alcoholism like his Elvis-obsessed father Kiddi (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson). Yet when Íris (Elín Hansdóttir), daughter of the local bookshop owner, arrives from the city, she opens up new horizons for Nói, allowing him to dream of leaving his village for a better world. In order to escape, however, Nói must bury his past, and he soon finds himself overwhelmed by a tragic destiny.

From its opening sequence of Nói shovelling away at snow that has piled up against his front door to neck height, 'Nói Albinói' repeatedly portrays the village, with its rigid conservatism, stultifying boredom, its prisons, museums, graves and endless snow, as a place of entrapment in which those who fail to get out will end up losing themselves. Nói is not literally an albino, but the title reflects his outsider status as well as the colour of the snow and ice that threatens to engulf and entomb him forever. The film is dominated by snowy whiteouts outside and drab hues and faded 1970s décor inside, creating a palette of stifling claustrophobia, while the strikingly rare intrusion of primary colours always points to escape – whether it is the paradise retreat suggested by the image of the tropical beach in Nói's toy viewfinder, or the death foreshadowed by the vat of bright red animal blood which Nói accidentally spills over his grandmother and father. All this is accompanied by the sombre indie score (by writer/director Dagur Kári's own band, Slowblow), which sets just the right tone of sombre whimsy.

Although Kári claims to have modelled his Icelandic village in part on Springfield from 'The Simpsons', his delightfully eccentric debut, combining low-key characters, tragicomic surrealism, and a mood that spirals ever downward, has far more in common with the downbeat comedies of Finnish director Åki Kaurismäki than with anything coming from America – even if the ambiguous ending nods to the final, beach-set scene of the Coen brothers' 'Barton Fink'. Yet 'Nói Albinói' has its own quirky tale to tell, and Kári's mastery of gentle understatement and poetic melancholy suggests that he is a very promising new talent, with a maturity and assurance well beyond his twenty-seven years.

It's Got: Lessons in how to make mayonnaise, a cat named Elvis, tips on how to smoke (quite a tabu in cinema these days), a piano destroyed with an axe, a fortuneteller, an attempted bankrobbery that could not be more understated, and a sense of impending doom.

It Needs: A ticket to Hawaii.

DVD Extras Scene selection; optional English subtitles; choice of 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound; full audio commentary (Icelandic, subtitled) by writer/director Dagur Kári, moderated by Ásgrímur Sverisson, revealing that it was filmed in three villages and not intended to reflect any reality, that casting was still incomplete when filming began, that the idea of Nói had gestated for ten years (originally for a comic book), and that three completely different versions of the film were made in the editing room over 9 months (suggesting that the films apparent simplicity is in fact well-honed). Three deleted scenes (15min) introduced by Kári - in the first, the psychiatrist tells the incredulous headmaster that Nói is hyper-inteligent, in the second Nói cunningly evades a drink-driving charge, and in the third Nói finds his grandmother playing a violin in the cupboard; some behind-the-scenes footage, including extensive interviews with Kári (19min, subtitled), with a lot of material repeated from the audio commentary, but some interesting comments on the use of a mostly monaural soundtrack to create a claustrophobic universe; a further interview with Kári in English (30min), again going over some material already covered, but also with comments on his Icelandic identity, his love of music, and the difficulties of finding ones own path as a first-time filmmaker; bios (with tiny writing) of Kári and Sverrisson. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

101 Reykjavik

Summary

White snow and black comedy in this melancholic tale of adolescence, entrapment and escape in Iceland.

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