Laura Clifford Robin Clifford
"Marry, and you will regret it. Do not marry, and you will also regret it. Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way. Whether you marry or you do not marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the stupidities of the world, and you will regret it; weep over them, and you will also regret it. Laugh at the stupidities of the world or weep over them, you will regret it either way. Whether you laugh at the stupidities of the world or you weep over them, you will regret it either way. ... Hang yourself, and you will regret it. Do not hang yourself, and you will also regret it. Hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either way. Whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either way. "
Ecstatic Discourse from Diapsalmata, Søren Aa. Kierkegaard
"Kierkegaard means graveyard, a fitting name for an idiot," opines grumpy bookstore owner Oskar (Hjalti Rögnvaldsson) after reading a piece of his work. Yet Kierkegaard's contradictions apply to a seventeen-year-old hangabout, who wants to escape from the remote village of Bolungarvik, a Icelandic fjord encased in binding snow. The disaffected youth, seen by some as a loser and others as a genius is "Nói" (Tómas Lemarquis).
Writer/director Dagur Kári has created an albino outsider like Victor Salva's "Powder," whose desperation to escape while portents of doom hover overhead paint him like an inverse "Donnie Darko." Iceland is developing an internationally recognized filmmaking industry with such directors as Baltasar Kormákur ("101 Reykjavík," "The Sea"), Friðrik Þór Friðriksson ("Cold Fever," "Angels of the Universe") and now the talented Kári.
Nói's entrapment is made obvious in Kári's opening shot. The boy is shoveling outside a window in order to get the door of his grandmother Lína's (Anna Fridriksdóttir, the director's mail deliverer) house open from beneath suffocating snow. Nói is disinterested in school, where he frustrates his teacher (Guðmundur Ólafsson) by handing in blank tests, and in work, where he negotiates the shallowest illegal grave depth his boss will overlook in the frozen earth. Nói dreams of Hawaii, and thinks he may have found someone to share his dream in Íris, (Elín Hansdóttir) the new girl at the gas station, but there's an obstacle there too - her father is Oskar and Oskar wants Nói to stay away from his daughter.
Kári's ingenious slacker tragicomedy has such a laid-back build that it's easy to miss the signposts along the way until one arrives at "Nói's" shocking conclusion. Yet Kári foreshadows everything, beginning with that Kierkegaard recital. Nói's dad (Thröstur Leó Gunnarsson) is the town drunk, obsessed with Elvis. When he begs Nói to take his evening taxi shift, Nói discovers a recorder with a tape of dad singing "In the Ghetto." (The tape recorder is conveniently drafted to take Nói's place in the schoolroom, making his teacher threaten resignation.) Nói teaches Íris how to smoke a cigarette, exhaling to the rhythm of 'Amen.' Nói's grandmother sends him to the local welder/fortuneteller Gylfi (Kjartan Bjargmundssonwho), who sees death everywhere in the boy's cup (this just after he's gotten that job at the graveyard.) When dad visits his mothers house to assemble homemade sausages, Nói fumbles the last ingredient, drenching dad and grandmother in blood. Besides the artful use of signposts, Kári's script deviously gives the strongest dialogue to everyone but his protagonist.
Cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk and Production designer/art director Jon Steinar Ragnarsson ("Angels of the Universe") visually separate Nói's private world from his real one. The snowy landscape is all blues, grays and greens, yet when Nói retires to his grandmother's underground shelter, the colors are more vibrant and when he enjoys his Viewmaster slides of Hawaiian scenes, he's set against wallpaper popping with embossed green palm trees. The two color schemes come together briefly for a Woody Allenesque romantic break in into a natural history museum. Conversely, editor Daniel Dencik can connect Nói with the everyday, intercutting the teen flipping pancakes in one room with his grandmother doing aerobics in another.
"Nói" is a hip rendition of a familiar tale made unfamiliar by its exotic location and it's genuinely surprise ending. Writer/director Kári is one to watch.
Noi (Tomas Lemraquis) is an extremely smart albino teenager living in a remote village in the wilds of northern Iceland. With the small town isolated during the harsh winters, Noi just wants to get away with Iris (Elin Hansdottir), a “city” girl who works at a local gas station and is the daughter of Noi’s friend, Oskar (Hjalti Rögnvaldsson), the local bookseller. When the teen tries to take matters into his own hands to affect their escape from the town, Bolungavrik, things go drastically wrong and it takes a natural disaster to make things change for the lad in “Noi Albinoi.”
We’re told, during the course of the film, that Noi is an exceptionally bright young man but his sullen, closed up demeanor keeps us at arm’s length. The teenager is failing in high school but we soon learn that this is of his own making as he is little challenged by the school work or his teachers. He lives with his grandmother (Anna Fridriksdóttir), lost his mother years ago and has a drunkard for a father. When he is expelled from school for his lack of effort his father, Kiddi (Throstur Leo Gunnarsson), gets him a job – as a gravedigger.
One day, Noi goes down to the local café/garage to buy his daily bottle of malt beverage and sees pretty newcomer Iris. She resists the odd looking boy, at first, but they soon become friends, then boyfriend/girlfriend, and share their dreams of getting away from the isolated village. Noi decides to expedite matters and attempts a bank robbery which he botches badly. He steals a car and tries to get Iris to go on the lam with him but she will have nothing to do with his crimes. He gets arrested and is sprung by his father. Humiliated, Noi hides out in his safe place beneath his grandmother’s house – until disaster strikes the town. Noi wanted changes in his life and Mother Nature obliges him irrevocably.
Lemarquis, as Noi, is a bit of a blank cipher as he keeps to himself and disdains the educational system in his tiny town. His attitude angers his teacher (Guðmundur Ólafsson) who wants to be rid of the boy he considers a troublemaker. When Noi is thrown out of school, he grudgingly takes the gravedigger job his father arranged, using his brains to figure out how to make his job easier under the harsh, frozen conditions of Iceland in winter. As we get inside the head of the title character we are also introduced to the people around him who, to varying degrees, have shaped Noi.
As the story builds, Noi becomes increasingly restless, especially when Iris enters the picture, and he takes to a path of crime that looks like it will be his end. Then, nature takes a hand and, for Noi and those around him, disaster strikes. For the albino teen, though, the disaster has positive connotations for his future.
“Noi Albinoi” is a quirky pastiche of characters, with Noi at the center. This central character keeps you at arms length as we watch him rebel against the school authorities but acquiesces when demands are made by his father.
This is a low key coming of age film where things happen without much fanfare. When Noi, armed with a shotgun, attempts to rob the local bank, he is greeted with bored disdain by the manager and thrown out on his ear. It takes his car theft to spice things up with the local authorities but even this event is less than earthshaking. It’s only when nature gets her fingers in the equation do things come alive, even in tragedy.
The remote Iceland locales make for some striking shot composition from lenser Rasmus Videbaek’s camera. Newcomer director Dagur Kari does a competent job first time out of the gate. The helmer also wrote the screenplay and, in one particular amusing moment, has Oskar quoting Kierkegaard’s Ecstatic Discourse from Diapsalmata, which is, basically, “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
“Noi” is an unusual coming of age story in a culture that is foreign (no pun intended) to American viewers. It should appeal to those with more quirky tastes. I give it a B-.
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