Director: Oskar Jonasson
It’s easy to see why Reykjavik-Rotterdam was selected to be Iceland’s submission for year’s Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. A well-paced thriller that possesses a few original traits and some decent comedic moments, it’s perhaps the most easily accessible Icelandic film for international audiences to date and easily competes with similar titles from higher profile film-producing countries.
Such accessibility is both the film’s greatest strength and main weakness. What distinguishes many Icelandic films is their leftfield characters, original narratives and unconventional scenarios. By contrast, Reykjavik-Rotterdam’s narrative seems almost as old as cinema itself. Smuggler Kristofer (Baltasar Kormákur) is a bad boy looking to go on the straight and narrow, but finds himself tempted back to the criminal world for one lucrative – and hopefully final – payday. Fortunately, the secondary plots provide something a little less obvious as Kristofer has to contend with his idiot brother-in-law (Jorundur Ragnarsson), as well as a complicated relationship between his wife Iris (Lilja Nott Thorarinsdottir) and best friend Steingrímur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson). The familiarity of the story is adequately compensated for as plenty of background is crammed into a succinct running time, while the escalating tempo provides a compelling hook which papers over some of the more workmanlike elements of the plot.
Reykjavik-Rotterdam is light years ahead of director Oskar Jonasson’s cult film Sódóma Reykjavík (Remote Control). Visually it looks fantastic, especially in the land-based night scenes which meld rich colours against a sheer black backdrop to neo-noir effect, as well as the confining grey-blue photography that captures the bored repetition of life at sea. Presumably created on a limited budget the action scenes crackle with tension and energy, although as with many such genre films they’re not entirely realistic – particularly as events in Rotterdam get ever more chaotic.
The DVD features a selection of deleted scenes which collectively demonstrate a greater sense of depth that underpins the film. The relationship between Kristofer and his family – depicted as essentially solid in the film, albeit with an unspoken undercurrent of awkwardness – is extrapolated into a fuller tapestry of uncertainty, fear and insecurity. As strong as it is (especially with the moral conflict of a career criminal scolding his son’s first attempt at shoplifting), it’s also clear that the cost of its inclusion would’ve been a detriment to the film’s natural sense of rhythm that allows it to progress at a compelling and naturalistic speed. Similarly, the relationship between Iris and Steingrímur is given a creepier context that lacks the subtlety to justify making the final cut.
Very well realised, if overly reliant on genre themes, Reykjavik-Rotterdam is pretty much an anomaly amongst Icelandic films but is sure to win a wider audience when the American remake, starring Mark Walhberg, emerges.
Reykjavik-Rotterdam can be purchased online at Nammi.
“What dickhead puts a pool table on a ship?”