Just like the weather on the edge of the arctic circle, Icelandic cinema has a reputation for being moody and brooding.
Icelandic films are certainly unique, often rich in a dark humour and heavily influenced by the trials and tribulations of life in a frequently difficult climate.
Here are a few of the best Icelandic movies – as well as one excellent TV series – that portray life in one of the most beautiful, if challenging, corners of the world.
Rams is the story of two brothers – both sheep farmers – who live on two neighbouring farms yet haven’t said a word to each other in over 40 years.
When both sets of sheep are threatened by a deadly disease the brothers are forced to acknowledge each other and cooperate for the first time in decades.
Selected for Iceland’s nomination as Best Foreign Language film at the 2016 Academy Awards, Rams is a dark and dramatic comedy that depicts the harsh realities of farming in rural Iceland, with the added complication of stubborn siblings bearing a long-held grudge.
The Deep is based on the remarkable true story of Guðlaugur Friðþórsson. Aged only 23 Friðþórsson was the only survivor when a fishing boat capsized during a storm on a winter night off the southern coast of Iceland, .
Friðþórsson miraculously survived despite being in the freezing cold sea for over five hours. Eventually managing to swim to the shore, Friðþórsson had no other option but to walk barefoot for three kilometres across lava fields until he eventually found shelter.
Remarkably Friðþórsson showed no signs of suffering from hypothermia despite the hours spent in the freezing sea or his trek home at night during the Icelandic winter. The Deep follows Friðþórsson’s survival, and his reaction to his new found – and unwanted – hero status.
More of a collection of tales revolving around a disparate group of people who all live in the same valley who all share a love for and reliance on their horses, Of Horses and Men is Icelandic cinema in a nutshell.
Funny, sad, touching, dramatic, gritty and downright odd, though dark and sometimes disturbing, if this film doesn’t make you want to go to Iceland then nothing will.
Produced by legendary Icelandic director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson and shot on location mostly in the north of Iceland, the stunning scenery is often as much a part of the film as the story line and the cast.
101 Reykjavik is the tale of Hlynur, who lives a slovenly life whilst still living with his mother despite approaching his 30s. Hlynur’s world is turned upside down with the arrival of Lola, an exotic flamenco dancing friend of his mother.
Lola’s arrival forces Hlynur into accepting a new reality that threatens his adolescent slacker lifestyle and forces him to confront an unorthodox adulthood.
Based on the book of the same name, 101 Reykavik was nominated for a host of awards, winning the Discovery Film Award at the prestigious Toronto International Film Awards.
Though the likes of The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge dominated the sudden burst of Nordic noir TV crime shows, Iceland’s Trapped might just be one of the most gripping of the whole genre.
A severed body is discovered in the harbour of a small Icelandic town just as a passenger ferry docks at the port. At the same time a blizzard descends, isolating the town from the rest of the country. Panic takes hold as news spreads that there might be a killer on the loose.
As the town’s three ill-prepared police officers attempt to find the culprit, it soon becomes clear that this is just the beginning of an investigation into much more than murder.
Trapped is directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who also produced The Deep and 101 Reykjavik, and stars Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who also plays the lead role in The Deep.
The first 10 part series of Trapped aired in 2015, and a second series, featuring much of the same cast, began on the BBC in the UK in late 2018. The second series of Trapped was released on DVD in April 2019.
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