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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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6 The Curious Case of Anti-Vikings


Introduction: Generation X and the Crisis of Manhood

The banished protagonists of When the Raven Flies (Hrafninn flýgur, 1984), first part of the trilogy about valorous Varangians, which managed to gain cult following in the homeland of Björk,231 live on a despised, hostile Icelandic land and dream of the death of the ungracious ruler, while thinking of the possibilities for their return to Norway. Unfortunately, their desire for escape from the insular prison will never be satisfied, as they are bound to atone for their past misdemeanors and will be killed by the enigmatic Gestur,232 who lonesomely arrives from the British Isles to the homeland of sagas to take revenge on the murderers of his family. Beloved by the Icelanders, the movie of Hrafn Gunnlaugsson still amazes with great (considering the European standards of productions made in a small country) breadth and interesting attempts made to recreate the historical reality. However, the story of a brave Irishman avenging his family may seem to be somewhat kitschy in the eyes of the foreign viewers, especially due to the overly expressive acting and artificial electronic music. And even though, as we are informed by the DVD cover, Ingmar Bergman himself claimed that Gunnlaugsson’s movie is “an epic story at its best”, and though some of the foreign critics compared it to the works of Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosava,233 looking for analogies with the movies made by the latter is an exaggeration. Definitely,...

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