Iceland, a country of fewer people than Staten Island, brings us a retrospective of 10 recent films, including four by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, its most widely distributed filmmaker. Fridriksson’s whimsical road films feature loners who seem displaced no matter what their surroundings. Reminiscent of Wenders or Jarmusch, the movies give equal weight to the fantastic and the mundane; narrative development is felt through the leisurely shifting of mood, experienced as much in relation to the exquisite landscape as through the characters.
The best of Fridriksson’s features here, Children of Nature (1991), is about an old man and woman, once childhood sweethearts, who head north to the land where they grew up. Largely without dialogue, the film becomes more mysterious as the odyssey progresses. It eschews the more familiar story of old people rediscovering their youth for a more fascinating meditation on coming to terms with loss. In Movie Days (1994), another film about nostalgia that doesn’t sentimentalize innocence, a seemingly random collection of images from American films of the early ’60s—from Nick Ray’s Christ epic King of Kings to a low-budget horror film, The Crawling Hand—haunt the enchanted universe of an Icelandic boy.
A crash course in the Reykjavik music scene is offered by two lively pre- and post-Sugarcubes documentaries. Watching Rock in Reykjavik (1982) you’d think that, circa 1982, this city must have held the record for most punk bands per capita. We get to see an adorable 16-year-old Björk, red circles on her cheeks and a bow in her hair. In Pop in Reykjavik (1998), now nearly all the bands sing in English and are obsessed with international fame—though this obsession tends to take the form of a professed disgust for its trappings.