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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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2 In the Land of the Great Narrations: Chronotopias, Uchronias and Nostalgic Past



Icelandic cinema often compares folk imagination, saturated with fantastic perspective, with secularization of the society to speak about sociological changes faced by the inhabitants of this volcanic island. Popularity of this motif may be related to the cultural heritage of Iceland, a country promoted as a place that allows the foreign tourist to touch the treasures of Nordic traditions and admire the majestic landscapes, which for many centuries have remained unchanged.121 Strategy based on highlighting the timelessness of the “island’s spirit” by the use of quotations from canonical works of culture, such as Edda or Íslendingabók (The Book of Icelanders) used to consolidate the national identity of a nation held under Norwegian and Danish jurisdiction. Björn Norðfjörð notices that:

“Extensive in scope of both time and space, the sagas are a prose fiction focusing on character interactions. Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg have argued that no other medieval literature went as far in combining romance and history, which they consider to lead ‘the way from epic to the novel’. … Icelandic folk tales also began to be celebrated and collected in the nineteenth century. And although not registering the nation formally in the manner of novel and arguably saga, they are literally referred to as þjóðsögur [nation-tales], as no distinction is made between nation and folk in Icelandic”.122

Unfortunately, mainly due to humble financial means devoted to production, Icelandic cinema since its very beginnings has...

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