The Icelandic Dream (2000)
Thirty-year-old Icelander Toti has a lot of problems, precipitaing an early mid-life crisis. His beloved football team have just been relegated to the Second Division, his 20-year-old girlfriend shows no interest in the sport, and his ex – also the mother of the daughter who he sees at weekends – is seeing an American, a people whom Toti despises.
But our hero has one card left to play. He’s the sole importer for Bulgarian Opal cigarettes, known as the “the energy brand”. Who cares if their special properties derive from an illicit substance?
This remarkably assured debut feature from Irish-Icelandic writer-director Robert I Douglas is a joy from start to finish, rarely putting a foot wrong. The writing is sharp, the performances assured and the command of cinematic language impressive.
The film is obviously low budget but, thanks to an appropriation of Dogme and documentary tropes – handheld camera, naturalistic lighting, jump cuts and direct-to-camera addresses – any limitations this could have imposed are turned to its advantage.
Though themes of masculinity in crisis and strong women/weak men are fast becoming familiar ones in Icelandic cinema, The Icelandic Dream elsewhere departs from the nascent conventions. There are no touristy images of harsh yet beautiful landscapes here, only a grey, wet, urbanised anonymity.
I sincerely hope that going against the grain here doesn’t damage the film’s box office potential outwith its homeland, where it has been a deserved smash.