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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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7 Icelandic Crime Stories



Themes and genre conventions applied in modern Icelandic movies frequently result from a compromise between the local character of this cinema and transnational aspirations of Icelandic moviemakers and producers. Despite of the low number of sunny days, the specific geographical conditions do not discourage the Icelandic directors, who bravely make use of any kind of weather and light. Not surprisingly, dark crime stories constitute a very popular genre there. The category includes not only films based on procedural conventions but also gangster cinema. In both cases, the visual layers of stories that depict the crime world of Reykjavík refer to neonoir cinema, so popular in many countries.

Literary Roots

Of course, the idea of exporting cinematic tales about criminal underground and mysteries would not appear among the Icelandic moviemakers if it were not for the past successes of the Scandinavian cinema and literature. Foreign interest in Nordic crime narrations increased considerably due to the media popularity of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. The successes of various Swedish and Norwegian writers258 (such as Henning Mankell or Jo Nesbø) prepared ground for the Icelandic writers in the European market. Their books were published in Denmark and Germany first. Later on, they were introduced to Anglo-Saxon market, mainly due to the stubbornness of publishers and laborious work of translators. In his monograph Death in a Cold Climate, Barry Forshaw claims that transnational popularity of Icelandic crime novels originates from the fascination of a British writer...

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