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    101 Reykjavik

    Such an ice boy

    The Icelandic hit "101 Reykjavik" is a disturbingly funny coming-of-age story along the lines of several American indie teen flicks — except our slacker hero is 30 years old and lives with his mom.


    Tall and thin, sort of gangly, with a bowl-cut of dark brown hair, lightly feathered facial scruff, thick glasses, and a penchant for shirts with horizontal stripes, Hlynur is visually a 21st-century Icelandic adult Charlie Brown; spiritually he resembles the famous Peanut almost as well. 101 Reykjavik begins with protagonist Hlynur on top of his girlfriend doing his best impression of enjoying intercourse. (The interwoven opening credits thoughtfully accenting the action on screen.) Hlynur (played by Hilmir Snaer Gudnason), jobless at age 30 and still living at home, is always trying hard not to be where he is. He would prefer to escape. He spends his days at home masturbating to the television and downloading porn off the Internet. Mail comes from the employment agency and he throws it out. He goes out drinking with friends, flirts with the girls, and then heads back to bed for detox, recuperation, and more masturbating. When told he should get a life, Hlynur's response is, "What is life?"

    Written and directed by: Baltasar Kormakur.
    Adapted from the novel by: Hallgrimur Helgason.
    Cast: Hilmir Snr Gudnason, Victoria Abril, Hanna Mara Karlsdottir, Baltasar Kormakur, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Thrudur Vilhjalmsdottir.

    Related links: Official site
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     101 Reykjavik

    This red-hot import (it out-grossed worldwide sensation "Gladiator" last year in Iceland) is the classic American slacker tale told in the land of ice. A directorial debut for Icelandic actor Baltasar Kormakur, "101 Reykjavik" is an unusually funny, touching, coming-of-age story that revisits old ground in a new tongue with the appropriate dose of inside jokes, regional oddities and striking performances.

    Hlynur's isolated world — no small metaphor for his home country — is going along rather blissfully ignorant of the greater joys involved with engaging in life until his mother's friend Lola Milagros (former Almodovar it-girl Victoria Abril) arrives to stay at the house for a while. Lola is a Spanish flamenco instructor with a seductive smile, a sultry voice and a carpe diem attitude. She's also in love with Hlynur's mom, Berglind (Hanna Maria Karlsdottir). An enigmatic character, Lola quickly becomes the center of the household dynamic when, after a night of heavy drinking while mom is away, she and Hlynur sleep together. Hlynur is of course jealous of their relationship, realizing that he was simply a momentary fling for Lola, but he is also the dutiful son who wants to badly to accept his mother's newfound lesbianism and be happy for her. Lola wants Hlynur to get out of the house and find himself something to do, not in a mean way, but because she recognizes from the start that that's what he needs most.

    101 Reykjavik  
    Hlynur doesn't really try very hard, nor do his brothers in arms. Instead, they just find ways to pass the time in true slacker fashion with plenty of excess and not an iota of effort. Hlynur sees no real future for himself, rather an entire life supported by the Icelandic welfare state. "It's a great system." When asked what he does, Hlynur responds with, "Nothing." Pushed further with, "What kind of nothing?" he replies the only way he can: "A nothing kind of nothing." Not even death is a serious topic for Hlynur — intoxicating, out-all-night weekends inspire, "Each weekend I drop dead." He says this while lighting up a Lucky atop a snow-capped mountain, where he lies down as the snow gradually covers him up. Easy, easy like Sunday morning.

    On the other hand, Hlynur's fantasy life is alive with passion — somewhere inside that head is definitely a ball of energy. Glimpses of his subconscious show us a deeply conflicted sense of self. Flashbacks of an alcoholic father mix with sexual fantasies of the lovely Lola but quickly reveal that mom's in bed, too. During a quick trip to the suburbs for a dinner with extended family, Hlynur, so comically disturbed by the mundane family ritual (they actually gather to watch a video of last year's family dinner), imagines a bloodbath scene killing everyone at close range with a shotgun. When brought back to reality, Hlynur's blank slate and effortless personality come back into the fore: "I was thinking what a nice couch you have," he explains to the previously slaughtered family. He salvages the suburban trip with a Salinger-esque gesture, subversively letting his little cousin light and smoke a cigarette. A small, muted attempt to let out the fireball inside.

    The film progresses as Hlynur comes to terms with his mother's love for Lola and his own feelings of inadequacy with her. The announcement that Lola is pregnant pushes him to the brink, making living under the same roof next to impossible for all three, but after a lot of acting out and flippant commentary Hlynur begins to see things a little differently. The infant's arrival, like a wedding at the end of an Elizabethan comedy, coincides neatly with Hlynur's homecoming to the world outside his bedroom and a newfound contentedness.

    An enjoyable element of "101 Reykjavik" that should be noted is the excellent soundtrack and score. Think about it: LOLA. If you don't immediately hear the classic Kinks tune in your head at the mention of that name, after this film you will. Blur's Damon Albarn and the Sugarcubes' Einar Orn take that catchy piece of historic pop, twist it, spin it, slow it, and speed it up to create a sometimes vampy, sometimes flourishing main theme for the film. Their quirky incidental music has just the right touch of presence and invisibility at all the right times.

    A darkly comic film with a tight narrative and engaging characters, "101 Reykjavik" is more a child of "Reality Bites" and "Singles" than it is a descendant from the ultimate wasted-youth progenitor, "Slackers"; but, like its glossier ancestors, it succeeds as a meaningful portrait of young adults cast adrift in the wake of an old city swept up in changing times. Hlynur Bjorn may not be the world's original slacker, but he connects, and he's thoroughly enjoyable company for one hundred minutes.

    JULY 25, 2001

    Reader comments on 101 Reykjavik:

  • 101 Reykjavik   from Joaquin Galarraga, Aug 21, 2002
  • 101 Reykjavik   from Valerie Jones, Oct 16, 2002
  • TONGUE LASHING   from Harry, Jan 16, 2004

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