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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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8 At the Edge of World: Black Comedies and the Allegories of Crisis and Isolation



At the beginning of the 21st century, the Icelandic cinema managed to gain some recognition in Europe. Younger generation of directors brought some new quality and topics into the cinema of their homeland. Movies produced after this turning point often represent values and themes that may seem to be contradictory to those explored in the 1980s, when the Icelandic filmmakers struggled to create the foundations for professional production and distribution systems, focusing mainly on the subjects and styles related to the heritage cinema model, described in more detail in the first chapter of this publication.

Objections against the “utopian” – romanticized and frequently overly ideologized images of the country, can be seen in the works of Baltasar Kormákur. During the first decade of the 21st century, his name overshadowed the declining star of Friðrik Þór Friðriksson,289 whose movies interestingly oscillated between the national and transnational perspective, but who definitely could not find an efficient method for describing the dynamic situation on the island. Kormákur’s movies are definitely designed as transnational cultural texts.290 Therefore, they could be easily accepted by the European audiences. The director himself often highlights his ambition to reach to foreign viewers:

“It doesn’t matter where my movies are set. Right now, I have a script that’s set in Canada and is in English. Just because I was born on the island [Iceland] doesn’t mean I want to spend the rest of my life telling...

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