Director: Ragnar Bragason
Winner of the 2006 Edda Award for Screenplay of the Year, Ragnar Bragason’s Börn (English title: Children) is a character-driven narrative examining the interconnected tales of three people facing very different challenges in contemporary society.
Karitas (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir) is a single mother, struggling to cope with the demands of four children, work and the need to have a life of her own. Her oldest son Gudmund is perhaps her biggest challenge, being old enough to realise that her time spent away from the children isn’t a conventional upbringing while also being bullied at school. His only friend is Marinó (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), a middle-age man with mental health issues who relies on the support of his own mother. Marinó believes that he has an innate ability to identify people of a dubious moral standard and has an immediate distrust of Gardar (Gísli Örn Garðarsson) and his attempts to forge a relationship with Gudmund. Gardar himself is a mid-ranking criminal; above petty shoplifting yet not adverse to giving any adversaries a swift beating.
The film’s black and white photography creates a mood free from a specific time-frame (the story itself could be place at any time in recent history) and the dark, looming shadows add a certain noir feel to Gardar’s underworld shenanigans, even if the occasional use of violence doesn’t always convince. Yet despite Gardar being the most immediate character, Karitas is the most prominent for this isn’t really a tale of criminal activity at all. Stylistically closer to a British kitchen sink drama, the complex issues that surround Karitas allow for empathy and condemnation in equal measure. She undeniably demonstrates traits of being a bad mother but that snap-judgment is soon skewed by the unraveling of the her background circumstances and by the realization that her actions are primarily misguided love rather than sheer selfishness.
Börn rarely extends from a neutral, observational viewpoint although it does provide a stunning late shot of a desolate, disheveled Marinó seeking solace in a quiet, comforting smoke that would surely be heralded as an iconic image in a higher profile movie. Similarly, the storytelling appears to be methodical and dialogue-driven (as you’d expect, given that the three leads were Bragason’s co-writers) but a notably captivating exception occurs when Marinó’s inner thoughts converge with words emerging from a television to access his inner turmoil. Structurally it’s been crafted with a level of sophistication that hints at an entire sub-plot born from secondary characters while keeping the focus on the story’s key individuals.
One of the most accomplished films featured on this site to date, Börn is also one of the more accessible for an international audience. It was followed by 2007’s thematic sequel Foreldrar / Parents.
This disc was kindly provided by the fine folks at Nammi.
“As we usually have an image of the family as a whole – you know the classic set-up, the typical family unit: mum, dad, kids and a car – are you afraid of comparing yourself to the norm?”