101 Reykjavik Review

Twenty-eight-year-old Hlynur (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) is unemployed and living with his divorced mother Berglind (Hanna Maria Karlsdóttir). He spends his days sleeping, watching porn on the Internet, and spending the evenings in Reykjavik's bars and clubs. He has an on-off, mostly off, relationship with Hofy (Thrúdur Vilhjalmsdóttir). Just before Christmas, Lola (Victoria Abril), a Spanish friend of Berglind's who teaches flamenco dancing, comes to stay...

Few countries are as trendy a destination as Iceland at the moment, so it was probably inevitable that we should get a "cool Iceland" slacker comedy before too long. Certainly that's what 101 Reykjavik (the title refers to a postal district) aspires to be. Unfortunately, like many such comedies, the film stands or falls on your attitude to the protagonist. You're meant to find him likeable, even identifiable. But if you, like me, find him an immature prat, then the film falls apart. That's not a reflection on Hilmir Snær Guðnason's performance, his cinematic debut, which is certainly capable. But an hour and a half in Hlynur's company is more than enough; let's be thankful that the filmmakers at least kept it short. A voiceover gives us Hlynur's thoughts on various subjects, and we share his fantasy of shooting his annoying relatives. We're in Hlynur's head all the time, and all the events of the story – unexpected pregnancy, Berglind coming out as a lesbian – are seen in terms of the way they affect him. He's an incurably self-centred character, and the film doesn't have the wit, irony or distance to make it anything other than tiresome.

What it does have in its favour is its view of modern-day Reykjavik: warm interiors and snow-stormy exteriors, a thriving weekend bar and club culture. Incidentally, the music score is written by Damon Albarn (in collaboration with Einar Örn Benediktsson of the Sugarcubes). Albarn is part-owner (with the film's director Baltasar Kormákur) of a bar called the Kaffibarin – which, needless to say, makes several appearances in this film.

101 Reykjavik is presented in an anamorphic transfer, in a ratio of 1.85:1. There's certainly very little wrong with the transfer, as indeed there shouldn't be for such a recent film. Only some aliasing problems keep it from full marks, but there's nothing too distracting.

There is only one soundtrack, with the original mix of Icelandic and English dialogue. (Dialogue involving Lola is in English, otherwise the film is entirely in Icelandic.) This soundtrack is in Dolby Surround, which I found played better with my amplifier switched to Dolby Pro-Logic. Note the surround-sound heavy breathing in the opening scene! It's a reasonably busy soundtrack, but I can't help wondering if a 5.1 mix would be better, especially as – according to the end credits – the film had a Dolby Digital soundtrack on its cinema release. Naturally, only the Icelandic dialogue is subtitled, but the subtitles are of a good size and well placed. They can't be switched off, but that will only be an issue for those fluent in Icelandic. It's a pity that the English dialogue couldn't be subtitled, at least for the benefit of non-Anglophone viewers or the hard of hearing.

The extras are minimal. There's a rather long (2:05) trailer, which is in 16:9 anamorphic and Dolby Surround. At least this trailer doesn't fight shy of including dialogue, as many trailers for foreign-language films do – though it includes quite a bit of English dialogue as well. The other extras are the filmographies of the two leads and the director, pretty much standard-issue stuff with the film listings derived (acknowledged) from the Internet Movie Database. There are twenty-one chapter stops, which is ample for a short film. The scene selection menu is one of the most badly designed I've seen: you have to select each chapter and wait until the appropriate still appears before you can go on to the next. To go to a later chapter, it's quicker to go to the film and hit the SEARCH button on your remote the appropriate number of times.

For anyone interested in Iceland, or its small but lively film industry, this will be worth a look but there are better Icelandic films around. (I recommend Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's Cold Fever, whenever it gets a DVD release.) 101 Reykjavik is the kind of film that rides the coattails of fashion, and is a hollow experience as a result.

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