This quirky Icelandic fable is an intriguing and extremely clever blending of comedy, tragedy and coming-of-age angst. Noi (Tomas Lemarquis) is a 17-year-old albino with no drive at all. He’s very bright, but he can’t be bothered to attend classes or do his homework, preferring instead to wander around his tiny, isolated village getting in trouble … or hiding out in the box-sized cellar beneath his house. Then he spots a new girl (Elin Hansdottir) working in the local cafe and develops an interest in life again.
Meanwhile, his drunken father (Throstur Leo Gunnarsson) is trying to reconnect with him, his spiky grandmother (Anna Fridriksdottir) is quietly spurring him on, and a grouchy shop owner (Hjalti Rognvaldsson) is trying to keep him away from his daughter. Then Noi visits a fortune-teller (Kjartan Bjargmundsson) who makes a rather scary pronouncement.
Obviously a Jim Jarmusch fan, writer-director Dagur Kari creates an astonishing tone that brilliantly blends dry humor with impending tragedy. The film pokes along randomly (just like Noi), observing each quietly comic scene and building an overwhelming sense of nature out of balance. Like a tragic hero, Noi is stubbornly unaware of his moral blindness, refusing to acknowledge the consequences of his behavior. Yet even as life begins to bite back with a vengeance, we’re never prepared for where Kari takes us!
Performances are spot-on from the entire cast; each memorable character is finely detailed and full of eccentricities that are beautifully underplayed. And even though it moves at an extremely slow pace, the film looks fantastic, with a wacky 1970s-style design (clothing, decor, cars) contrasted against the bleak wasteland around the snowbound village. And it’s in the ironic conclusion that Kari delivers his powerfully resonant punch. A terrific feature debut from a filmmaker to watch.