12 December 2009

Cold Fever

Now that I'm free from the schedules of academia, I'm able to begin to fully explore some avenues of cinema I've been interested in studying further, namely Icelandic cinema.

Over the course of the semester, I read an incredibly well-detailed thesis on Icelandic cinema by Björn Nordfjord, an Icelandic film scholar I intend on contacting soon to express my interest in pursuing the topic in grad school and as a professor. Iceland is a culture I have found myself strangely drawn towards throughout my life and it's cinema has a bizarre appeal to me.

However, Icelandic films are, ostensibly, difficult to obtain. This is an issue I have been slowly remedying through DVDs imported from various regions.

Tonight, I watched Friðrik Þór Friðriksson's Cold Fever (Á köldum klaka, 1995). I may talk more later on my father's impression of the film, as he watched it with me and seemed to enjoy it. Certainly, this film is a clear example of Icelandic cinema's transnational approach. The film centers on a young Japanese businessman, Hirata, visiting Iceland to perform a rite for his deceased parents, who passed away in an accident at a remote Icelandic river. In addition to Hirata, the film also features brief appearances from Germans and a section in which Hirata picks up American hitch hikers. Thus, while Iceland is spoken, it is always between Icelanders, supporting characters to the Japanese Hirata. Hirata speaks in his native tongue in the brief introduction that takes place in Japan or when he is alone and talking only to himself. All these moments are subtitled, but the bulk of the film occurs in English. English is, after all, the closest thing to a universal language. As Nordfjord points out, when Hirata is first greeted on the plane to Iceland, he is asked, "Do you speak English? You're going to like it here in Iceland," but this also acts to introduce the audience to the film.

The film asks as a sort of introductory course into the peculiarities of Icelandic culture. Everything from brennivín and sheep's head to the local music scene is paraded out for the foreign viewer. Here is Iceland, packaged up for global consumption.

At the same time, for those familiar with Icelandic culture, the local audience, there are plenty of sly "insider jokes." For one, the entire sense of an "introduction to Iceland" is played up sarcastically. We can sit back and laugh at the Icelanders portrayed in the film that excitedly promote that "Iceland has the most writers per capita" or "Iceland has very beautiful women. We had two of the last six Miss World." Not to mention some obscure jokes, like a tourist angrily calling the radically anti-fascist punk band Þeyr "Nazis" because the radio won't turn off and he doesn't want to hear the music.

Overall, the film is essentially a "road movie," tracking Hirata's arduous quest to finally do something for his parents. It's also a comedy, though perhaps its most comedic elements are more directed towards its local audience, while foreigners will look more to its European art cinema elements and Jarmusch-style cinematography.

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