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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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Introduction: The Imaginary Island: From a Literary Myth to On-screen Stereotype



The Imaginary Island: From a Literary Myth to On-screen Stereotype

Constructing a Myth

The protagonists of Julius Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a novel written in 1864 and inspired by Icelandic sagas, decide to sail to the far North to reach one of the craters under the Snæfellsjökull glacier to get from there to the center of our planet. Obviously, the dreams of traveling to the 19th-century Verne’s fictional “land of fire and ice” are rooted in much earlier times. They were spun by the first sailors who set off from Europe to explore the unknown. The ancient marine wanderers initially identified a lone island at the end of the ocean with the farthest land – mythical Ultima Thule. As Pierre Lévêque fairly points out, the ancient history is

“a period when brave pioneers explored new ocean trails. Euthymenes and Pytheas arrived at The Pillars of Heracles. The first one crossed the western coast of Africa, most likely reaching Senegal. The other one sailed north, visited the British Islands (named that way for the first time), Scandinavia and the foggy island of Thule (Iceland), only to come back to Marseilles, where he wrote diaries that raised general disbelief”.1

In his description of the fantastic lands, Umberto Eco invokes not only this boundary imagination but also creates the first maps of imaginary space, which include, for instance, the volcanoes and fantastic creatures...

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