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The Cinema of Iceland

Between Tradition and Liquid Modernity


Sebastian Jakub Konefał

The last decade was an exceptional period for the Icelandic cinema. The films produced during this time have won many prestigious awards at international festivals. Cinematic images of Iceland eclectically interlace myths, stereotypes and postmodern means of expression. At first glance, the local films obsessively repeat the same themes which might be incomprehensible for a foreign viewer. However, academic research on the most interesting motion pictures creates an opportunity to study the birth and development of small, but energetic and ambitious cinematography. Such an experience also allows analyzing problems related to the system of film production in this sparsely populated country and helps identify challenges during the process of introducing a local culture abroad. Finally, studying Icelandic cinema gives a chance to go on the audiovisual journey through the fascinating culture and unique landscapes.

The author of the book analyses popular topics and narrative strategies in Icelandic films. The research covers local versions of black comedies, road movies and crime stories as well as different figures connected with the motif of struggle between tradition and modernity.

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Preface: A Cinematic Terra Incognita?


Most people associate Iceland with a popular tourist destination – full of unusual attractions, such as glaciers, geysers and crippling air traffic volcanoes. Many others may think of Vikings, sagas and financial crisis of the year 2008. Flying to Reykjavík for my first scholarship in September 2010, I was aware that this northern land also gave the world some great writers, gifted musicians and not necessarily widely recognized cinema. This last field of culture is supposed to be the new subject of my academic interests that finally transformed into six years of researching project.

At the beginning of my work, I had known only a few films – mostly those of Friðrik Þór Friðriksson and recognizable in Europe movies of Baltasar Kormákur. Gradually, during my scholarships at the University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands) and in the course of my queries, both in the National Film Archive of Iceland and the Icelandic Film Centre, I discovered more and more data on the unknown authors and themes.

At the very first glance, the Icelandic cinema may seem to a foreign viewer as the one obsessively repeating the same themes and topics which, by the way, are not always easy to comprehend without the proper historical and culture background. Closer encounters with the most interesting films from this Nordic island, however, compensate the aforementioned difficulties, giving the opportunities to observe the birth and development of small (but brave) energetic and ambitious cinema. Such...

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