Director: Baltasar Kormákur
The dark side of Iceland is emphasised in this intelligent murder mystery based on the novel by Arnaldur Indridason, the nation’s prominent crime fiction author.
A dead body is found in a Reykjavik basement flat, the victim of a predetermined yet apparently motiveless attack. Erlendur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) is the old school detective – strong on instinct, slow on contemporary investigative procedure – assigned to investigate a case that gets ever darker with each subsequent unveiling of clues. His problems don’t end there; his daughter seems caught in the city’s less savoury undercurrent and his colleague represents the “new” Iceland that he’s unwilling to comprehend or embrace.
As with many Icelandic films, the scenery comes a narrow third to the characterisation and plot. But Jar City is gloomy, rainy, visciously wind – it’s every bit as inhospitably unfriendly as the plot is damning to the past. The forensic details and the slow emergence of the circumstances that lead to this grisly incident are expertly constructed with the complexities of the narrative moulded into an accessible conclusion. Think a cerebral, greying CSI and you’re halfway there.
For the visitor there are plenty of places easy to spot within a weekend visit. Granted, they’re rarely notable – the looming Mount Esja being an inspiring exception – but there’s a welcome honesty in displaying the city’s mediocre side (Erlendur buys his goat head dinner from the back of the BSI travel terminal, the National Office of Statistics is found roughly parallel to the main Laugavegur drag).
It’ll come as no surprise that an American remake is already in the works, this time set in Louisiana. Recreating the original’s unsettling atmospherics will be a lost cause, so its best hope of not sucking is to cast Erlendur with someone who can exude the same nerd / mentalist balance as Sigurðsson.
Arnaldur Indriðason’s novel of the same name uses black humour in a fashion more subtle (barely detectable?) than the film. He uses language sparingly and the unveiling of the truth emerges by rote, making for a far less engaging experience. Or maybe murder mystery fiction just isn’t my thing…
Jar City / Mýrin can be purchased online at Nammi.
“A typical, clumsy Icelandic murder…”