Director: Hillmar Oddson
Cold Light is a curiously eccentric fable even by Iceland’s usually original film output. Within the opening twenty minutes, lead character Grimur has been scolded by his frosty teacher for his ‘unique’ take on life drawing, returned to a childhood memory of seeing an old neighbour on a somewhat unconvincing broomstick and somehow bedded his frosty teacher with his understated (read: non-existent) charisma. All the while, man or child, Grimur holds almost the same blank facial expression – it’s the face of a soul who knows he about to endure particularly unpleasant dental treatment, or that of one of Nick Cave’s effortlessly doomed protaganists.
Grimur’s artistry is equal parts a blessing and a curse; his macabre yet cartoony illustrations convey dark memories and perhaps darker forebodings.
For a story where dramatic emotions are key, the film’s collective characters seem oddly cold and detached – a situation barely helped the minimalistic sets. Adult Grimur’s (Ingvar Sigurdsson) home is almost comically empty; it’s as sparsely sad as an ignored crossword puzzle. With the narrative alternating between the two stages in Grimur’s life, Cold Light lacks a certain cohesion. The mystery of young Grimur’s tale compels while the loneliness and odd behaviour of his older counterpart at least intrigues, yet the two strands aren’t as complimentary as they potentially should be.
But, for all its faults, Cold Light possesses three quite brilliant accomplishments. The best of these comes with the villagers’ wait for the return of an ill-fated fishing boat. Grimur’s foresight is new good news for his family, but a celebratory hug provokes immense sorrow from another. Also notable is the visceral violence inflicted by another child upon a weak bird and the sudden burst of silence that greets more unsettling news for our ashen-faced friend.
This is an intelligently crafted if slightly underwhelming piece in which an acceptance of the mysticism (and Icelandic folklore?) used as a vehicle to carry this solemn, poetic tale would certainly enhance the experience.
Cold Light / Kaldaljós can be purchased online at Nammi.
“One can’t blame the land if the Earth revolves and the sun can’t reach us.”