Saturday, August 16, 2008

JAR CITY / MYRIN - no gaucamole bullshit here!

JAR CITY is a hysterically funny, visually arresting, tricksy little police procedural set in Iceland. The movie is among the most funny I have seen all year, and yet works equally well as a carefully told character-driven drama.

The movie is written and directed by Baltasar Kormákur, but based on the successful crime novel, "Mýrin" by Arnaldur Indriðason. The source novel is a linear crime thriller. Kormákur has added a rich seam of humour - both verbal and bordering on slapstick as well as an insistent desire to show the rest of the world how tasty sheep's heads are. More seriously, this is a film that lovingly shows us how strange life can be in a small, rather isolated country, where half the population are essentially still country folk, and the other half are embracing the fake-cosmpolitanism of the Starbucks culture. Much of the humour comes from the sheeps-head brigade mocking the latte-drinkers, and in a pivotal chase scene, the latte drinker is quite brilliantly ineffectual.

Kormákur also takes an interesting approach to the contruction of the narrative arc that adds a certain intellectual challenge to the film. It also changes the emphasis from a conventional "whodunnit" to a "whydunnit". In other words, this is no CSI Rekjavik but a proper drama.

The hero of the movie is a quiet, tough, loner called Erlendur. He's a detective investigating the death of a local sleazebag. Erlendur is the kind of guy who buys the same take-out every night. He's also the kind of guy who'll kick you out of his house and throw you down the stairs, but then bring you a cushion for your leg and call an ambulance. He is, in short, a decent but flawed man. This is most painfully shown in his relationship with his daughter - a drug addict. He is strict in not giving her money to feed her habit - on the other hand he'll offer her a home and try to protect her. And by the end of the film, he'll even tell her how deeply he has been affected by his work - a small opening to a real relationship.

The murder Erlendur is investigating is also about relationships between the generations. Thirty years ago, a nasty piece of work with a rare hereditary disease raped (or did he really?) two women and sired two children, both of whom passed on the weakness to their children. This rare genetic thumb-print will allow Erlendur and his sidekcik Sigurður to track down the murderer of the original rapist, thanks to the new, controversial, Icelandic DNA database. Without being overtly political, Kormákur carefully shows the dangers of absolute knowledge of this kind.

Despite the fact our Gmunden correspondent and I watched JAR CITY subtitled into English, we walked out of the cinema quoting lines, still laughing, convincing Nikolai that he simply had to see it. It's one of the best films I've seen all year.

JAR CITY was released in Iceland and was the most successful Icelandic film in history and won 5 Edda awards. It played Toronto and London 2007 and was released in Norway last year. JAR CITY was released in the US in February, and will be released in France and the UK on September 12th 2008.

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