Posted by: Ben Hopkins | 21/10/2009

Small Mountain / Heiðin

Director: Einar Thor
Year: 2008

Einar Thor’s Small Mountain (Heiðin) is very much about the contrasts between old and new; the dichotomy between new technology and the countryside’s more antiquated methods of communication , the older generation’s sense of duty versus the younger’s rich desire for reward. In spite of these conflicts – and the inspiration garnered from the story of Abraham and Isaac – Small Mountain is resolutely accessible.

Small Mountain finds great strength in simplicity. Nowhere is that more evident than the plot. It’s election day and Emil in entrusted with the task of transporting the ballet box to the airport so it can be flown to the city for official counting. His task soon encounters problems; the first due to bad weather, the second due to a freak minor road accident. To make matters worse, his estranged son Albert – an angsty, unpredictable character – is a passenger in the car sent to help him.

A scene from Small Mountain

A scene from Small Mountain

A farcical tale full of convincingly unconventional characters, Small Mountain has the charm and mellow disposition required for ideal Sunday evening viewing. Yet beneath the feelgood exterior is a darker heart. Albert’s brooding anger threatens to overspill into violence and sexual aggression, but it’s the unjust destruction of innocence depicted in a chick wrapped in a bag and thrown to its death and a stricken lamb that lingers in the memory.

The film’s relaxed atmosphere is complimented by the photography, which combines beautiful shots of the nation’s outback with a comforting palette. As is often the case with the nation’s films, it’s almost Icelandic tourism promotion by stealth; every detail looks enticingly stunning. The visuals are backed with Danny Chang’s suitably breezy score that emphasizes the light tone.

The performances fall somewhere between being eminently likeable and efficiently unfussy, highlighted by Johann Sigurðarson’s understated performance as everyman in odd circumstances Emil.

Small Mountain’s close to 100 minute running time is a little excessive for its wonderfully understated style – interest briefly flags before the fate of the ballot box is unveiled – but it’s a minor cost in exchange for a film that offers pleasingly light entertainment with a tougher undercurrent and far more depth (even down to questioning the contemporary democratic system) than first appears evident. Perhaps it’s a little underwhelming to match the international success of Jar City or 101 Reykjavik, but it possesses more than enough warmth and national character to please festival audiences the world over.

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