A young man’s sexual impulses go haywire when he discovers that the woman he has just been to bed with happens to be his mother’s lesbian lover. Set against the backdrop of Reykjavik’s swinging nightlife, this zany black comedy takes a candid look at its anti-hero’s compelling, confused and often hilarious sexual universe. Living on social security in the protected environment of his mother’s home, Hlynur has never felt the urge to venture beyond the confines of his microcosmic world: 101 Reykjavik. Determined to resist adulthood at all costs, he soon finds out that life is busy making other plans for him.
101 Reykjavík 7.75
eyelights: Victoria Abril. its mildly offbeat characters. its quirky humour. its setting.
eyesores: its protagonist.
“Family dinner or a funeral… I’d rather go to a funeral, at least there’s one less idiot then.”
‘101 Reykjavik’ is an Icelandic co-production based on a novel by Hallgrímur Helgason. It follows Hlynur, an aimless 30-year-old who still lives with his mom and takes advantage of social services to avoid having to work.
Careless to the point of having an awkwardly close relationship with his mom, who waits on him on hand and foot, his days are spent killing time and his evenings are spent going to bars with friends and picking up girls.
But, during the Christmas holidays, his mom’s friend, Lola, comes to visit. Though at first he considers her presence an intrusion, he eventually befriends her and they start hanging out. That’s when things get messy.
I obviously don’t know what the themes of the original book might be, or if the film is remotely representative of it, but I enjoyed its quirky look at Hlynur’s emotional immaturity and the dynamics that caused it to bloom.
I have no idea what it’s like in Iceland, but we see in North America a growing number of young adults wholly unprepared for adult independence, artificially kept aloft as they are by their parents. So that resonated with me.
I mean, I could easily have been one of them. What if my mom hadn’t given me an ultimatum, propelling me out on my own? What if I hadn’t found a job early on and wound up on social assistance? What if I had no support?
I might have also taken the easy road.
So watching Hlynur coast through his life and then being forced to grow up when life confronts him was an interesting journey for me – especially since the picture is filled with humourous touches and reflections along the way.
One of my favourite moments is when he goes to the traditional Christmas family gathering and has to listen to the elders compare how much snow they’d gotten back home; it’s an Icelandic approach to something familiar.
All too familiar.
Yeah, I loves me a good family gathering.
And it gets worse: they actually sit around the television to watch a recording of last year’s Christmas gathering, reminiscing about the nothing that they did then. Naturally, Hlynur’s reaction is nothing short of outrageous.
Even better is the moment when he is confronted with his lover’s pregnancy – but is too busy putting money in the expiring meters to mess with the meter maid to care. It’s a uniquely unusual scene that compels chuckles.
The problem is that Hlynur is a real jerk-wad, which makes it difficult for us to care about him. The way he treats women, and especially the girl who is sweet on him, is utterly despicable. He’s nothing short of a douche bag.
Of course, all of this rests in his relationship with his mother, whom he cares about but clearly doesn’t respect, and the limited options available to him in this welfare state. Seeing no future, he treats the present with contempt.
And that includes everyone, even himself.
There are many instance of Hlynur just going out in the middle of a field and lying down in the snow, hoping for hypothermia to set in. But he’s too uninspired to truly commit suicide: even there he takes the easiest route.
Which, naturally, doesn’t work.
If all of this seems somewhat dreary, it surprisingly isn’t. But it’s hard to be enthusiastic in the face of it. Thankfully, Victoria Abril is there to perk things up in the form of Lola, adding her own lovely eccentricities to the mix.
Abril is always a delight to watch.
English is a compulsory language that is commonly spoken in Iceland, so the picture was shot in both Icelandic and English. This makes for an interesting mix, as the characters constantly alternate between the two languages.
That’s very familiar to me, having lived in a bilingual region.
Another thing I found interesting was the choice of score. Designed by Damon Albarn, it’s composed of an assortment of rudimentary, if not experimental, electronic soundscapes. It didn’t really fit, but it added to the quirkiness.
And if anything describes ‘101 Reykjavik’, it’s “mildly quirky”. It may not be full-blown nutty like some of the best Coen Brothers films are, but enough so that it lifts it above what could otherwise have been a dry melodrama.
Ultimately, it makes for a good counterpoint to your average Christmas movie.
Gleðileg jól, everyone!
Date of viewing: November 16, 2016