Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Winner Cannes: Un Certain Regard 2015,
Golden Eye at Zurich 2015
Reviewed by Simone Witney
Will watching an elderly Icelandic sheep farmer make coffee in his lonely kitchen get you on the edge of your seat? Yes. The delicacy with which Sigurður Sigurjónsson (himself a director, writer, comedian) who plays Gummi, expresses his interior life wordlessly is nothing short of superb. In fact, the whole film is utterly compelling.
It tells a true story of feuding brothers who live in some isolation only yards from each other. Their rift is so deep they never speak. One of them internalises his conflict, the other breaks out in acts of competitiveness, drunkeness and angry denial. It’s not an uncommon theme, but what’s less usual is the tenderness with which the narrative is played out through a spare use of event and dialogue. The incidents are small and domestic, taking place almost exclusively (apart from a couple of village scenes) on the two farms. There are many flashes of humour, but it’s a wry humour for the onlooker: the characters are entirely absorbed in dealing with a cruel blow of fate, which pushes them to the edge of survival and fractures their obsession. The relentless raw beauty of the Icelandic landscape mirrors their drama and gives it universality without a hint of mawkishness or cliché.
Some have called it ‘heart-warming’, perhaps because the brothers convey essential communications by sheep dog. This does the film and its audience an injustice: it trivialises the sheer quality of filming which renders the ordinary exceptional, and implies that we need a palliative to shield us from extremity. If I want my heart warmed I go to Facebook. I go to the cinema (usually) for a heightened experience and the refinement and pathos of this film have returned to me every day since I saw it five weeks ago.