101 Reykjavik
Wellspring // Unrated // $24.98 // April 15, 2003
Review by Jason Janis | posted April 28, 2003
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the Film:

Hlynur (Hilmir Snær Gudnason) is living what can only be described as a sheltered, womb-like existence. He is thirty years old, has no job to speak of - nor the ambition to find one, as governmental assistance suits him just fine - and only looks forward to weekend partying with friends at local watering holes. These events seem to be the sole thing Hlynur can get even moderately excited about - they break up his weekday routines, largely defined by satellite and internet porn, masturbation, cigarette smoking, and waking up at (and after) the crack of noon. This lifestyle is enabled by his mother Berglind (Hanna Maria Karlsdottir), a caring and doting woman who still hands her grown son towels after bathing, buys him underwear, and indulges in the occasional hash smoking with him. Although he also has the attention and affection of Hofi (Thrudur Vilhjalmsdottir), a young woman with whom he parties and shares the occasional tryst, his interpersonal ambitions wane once he leaves her physical company.

Hlynur aspires - if it can dare be described as such - to keep things just as they are, even though his existence offers no real hope of even moderate growth (that he is often seen luxuriating in a hot tub is quite telling). Even his weekend outings are greeted with jaundiced disdain: like the "rerun" he describes them as, the same characters appear, week after week, exhibiting the same behaviors, seeking escape, casual sex, and the proverbial "good times." Through sardonic, witty voiceovers, Hlynur casts a weary, jaded eye on the proceedings. If the above sounds somewhat depressing, fear ye not - 101 Reykjavik, which makes no apologies for its rather unsympathetic protagonist, quickly sets an altogether winning tone of madcap, eccentric, at-times screwball comedy from the start and generally sustains it well though its brief, rapid duration.

The quirky plot, such as it is, can be boiled down to this: Mom brings home a "friend," Spanish flamenco instructor Lola (Victoria Abril, veteran of similar Almodovar fare such as High Heels, Kika and Tie me Up! Tie me Down!), who is to stay at their flat for a while (if the very idea of flamenco dancing in Iceland brings a smile to your face, you're more than likely going to enjoy this - 101 Reykjavik relishes that sort of idiosyncracy). While Mom travels to spend New Years Eve with family, Lola and Hlynur go off and party together at Hlynur's familiar haunt. During the blurry holiday festivities, they soon find themselves back at Mom's flat in throes of passion. Lola stirs something in Hlynur that he can't quite define or process: is it mere lust, or something deeper? In any event, it has certainly interrupted his otherwise predictable existence. Unfortunately for him, things are about to get decidedly more complicated - Hofi informs him that she is pregnant, that he is unquestionably the father, and that she wishes to keep the baby (his response, and apparent point of concern, muttered like a mantra, is "I wore a condom"). Mom, returning from her travels, informs Hlynur that she is a lesbian and that Lola is her lover. Barely having time to recover from this revelation, Hlynur is increasingly disoriented by the news that Lola is also now pregnant, and that she and Mom are enthusiastically looking forward to raising the child - which would ultimately render Hlynur a player in far more roles of responsibility than he could ever imagine (or want).

Navigating the now-familiar terrain of coming of age / stunted-growth storytelling, 101 Reykjavik (directed and adapted by actor Baltasar Kormakur from the novel by Hallgrimur Helgason) boasts some unfamiliar tendencies from the more generic, expected fare. Set in the titular capital city of Iceland, a place Hlynur laments is like "some backwater of Siberia" where "even the ghosts get bored," Hlynur's anomie seems almost understandable, if not justified - this is his land of freezing temperatures, unforgiving snow, mind-numbing extended family, and apparently not much else to do except (save for work) get smashed. Further, it treats sexuality in a refreshingly non-judgmental, largely humorous manner - there are none of the naughty, "hey look at that" voyeuristic or puritanical tendencies that mar many other entries in this genre. Its humor, demonstrating madcap tendencies with something a shade darker, achieves a fairly knowing balance throughout.

the DVD:

Video: 101 Reykjavik is presented in enhanced widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For a first time feature made on a limited budget, the film looks great. Kormakur directs in a manner that is alternately deadpan and whimsically flamboyant, which is perfectly suited to the subject matter at hand. The cinematography boasts some nice incongruities as well - the confines of home and nightlife are appropriately tight (bordering at times on the claustrophobic), and some of the exteriors and vistas toward the end (as Hlynur's world opens up) are nothing short of breathtaking. Black levels and colors are well rendered and steady throughout. Very well done.

Audio: On board are two Dolby tracks, 2.0 stereo and 5.1. The DD 5.1 is a pleasure - although not heavily reliant on surround features, there is a nice ambience, and the soundtrack is given a clean presentation which enhances the quirky, eccentric tone of the film itself. Again, well done.

Extras: As with most other Wellspring titles, there is really nothing noteworthy in terms of extras. Included is the film's trailer and seven other trailers to Wellspring titles, as well as brief filmographies. There are also weblinks to wellspring.com and an interview with writer/director Kormakur done for indieWIRE magazine. There are also English subtitles included for the Icelandic language portions, which make up the bulk of the film.

Final Thoughts: 101 Reykjavik is an amusing and ultimately rather sweet film, albeit an extremely slight one. Blasting through its 84-minute length (even though the DVD claims ninety) at a whip-fast pace, the film has some great moments of truly inspired lunacy. It is also very well-acted across the board, and boasts a peculiar, amusing soundtrack by Blur's Damon Albarn and ex-Sugarcubes' member Einar Orn Benediktsson (which includes a rather goofy, yet effective, update of the Kinks' classic "Lola"). There are times when the film seems to aspire to be something deeper than its thin premise promises - its not as original as it thinks it is, and the occasional darkness does not always complement the overall tone - but if you can get on its frenzied, wacky wavelength, it may prove difficult to resist. Recommended with the above caveat.

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