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"IRRESISTIBLE. A completely original coming-of-age story. There's a beguiling sense of absurdity that emerges in the delicious tension between humor and pathos. A feature debut of extraordinary promise."

Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

 

 

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION 

Having appeared at over thirty film festivals around the world, including the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival, where it received a special commendation in the Guardian New Directors Award category, Dagur Kári’s debut feature NÓI continues to enchant critics and audiences across the globe with its unique twist on coming of age in a small town, in this case a remote Icelandic fjord (with less than a thousand human inhabitants) whose most eccentric denizen, a 17-year-old albino named Nói, dreams of escaping to loftier climes. Through his deadpan protagonist and remote setting Kari brings universal resonance to the age-old subject of youthful ennui. “I am not trying to show realistically what it is like nowadays to live in a small village in Iceland,” Kari recently told Cahiers du Cinema. “I use Iceland’s state of isolation to work on the idea of closure.” Closure for Nói proves to be one of the more indelible cinematic denouements in memory.

Kari’s debut follows in the wake of such recent darkly comic coming-of-age dramas as GHOST WORLD, DONNIE DARKO and RUSHMORE, films whose quirky young protagonists learn to escape their oppressive surroundings in surreal, often outrageous ways. For Nói, a gifted student who’s failing his high school course work, escape comes in the form of a secret compartment beneath his grandmother’s house where he can elude daily pressures including unrelenting snow, a drunkard father, a dead-end job as a gravedigger and several harried school officials who are oblivious to Nói’s superior intelligence. But when he catches one glimpse of gas station attendant Iris, the sexy teenage daughter of the gruff local bookstore owner, Nói’s definition of escape becomes something less claustrophobic than his own basement. In a series of comic interludes, Nói tries to impress Iris and convince her to flee the fjord with him, to little avail. A startling act of God changes his life irrevocably, adding metaphysical implications to an already frenzied mix.

Twenty-nine-year-old director Kari, an Icelandic native, returned to his country of origin after studying for four years at The Danish Film School in Copenhagen, where he completed a short film, Lost Weekend, and then began writing the screenplay for his feature debut. With NÓI , shot in the remote village of Bolungarvik on the West Fjord of Iceland (population 957), Kari joins fellow directors Baltasar Kormakur (The Sea, 101 Reykjavik), Agust Gudmundsson, Robert I. Douglas and Maria Sigurdardottir, Mikael Torfarson and Ragnar Bragason in creating a national cinema that has transcended its remote origins, coalescing into an impressive body of work that has earned international acclaim at film festivals and through general release abroad. With musical acts like Bjork, Sigur Ros, Gus Gus and Mum attracting international attention, Icelandic pop culture is no longer the hipster’s best-kept secret.

 

INTERVIEW WITH DAGUR KÁRI 

Q: Did you always plan to return to Iceland after school in Denmark?
A: For some time I’ve known that my films would not necessarily take place in Iceland. In 1995 I started The Danish Film School and graduated in 1999, with a 40-minute short film called Lost Weekend, shot in Denmark. NÓI is a very old idea I strongly associated with Iceland. I always wanted to do my first feature film there, to establish where I come from.

Q: What’s the origin of NÓI ?
A: The character of NÓI has been living inside me for many years. He is even older than my interest in films, and at some point I considered making cartoons or comics with that character. Throughout the years I have collected all kinds of ideas related to him, and by the time I graduated from film school these ideas were ripe to be incorporated into a script.

Q: What about the location of the film?
A: The film was not supposed to take place in an isolated village. I was thinking more about Reykjavik. But finally I thought that the Icelandic capital was too connected to reality. I wanted to create a universe that did not really exist, but could. To me the West Fjords were most interesting because of the eerie atmosphere and beautiful, extremely visual scenery. Of course we were very dependent on snow and that was the area that was most likely to have snow. During winter it can be completely cut off from the rest of the world due to extreme weather.

Q: Was casting the movie difficult?
A: Iceland is small and everybody knows everybody. If you sit in a bar long enough in Reykjavik you will have found all your cast and crew. For this movie I didn’t go after well-known names. Most of the actors are new to cinema and not celebrities. I mainly went after the right types, and that’s why it’s a combination of non-professionals and professional actors. The woman who plays Lina, the grandmother, delivers the mail in my neighborhood. I met the girl who plays Iris in a vegetarian restaurant. Many members of the cast are personal friends, like the psychologist. As for the character of Nói, it was clear to me that he would need to have a very distinctive, almost alienated look. And since I don’t know any Icelandic albinos of that age that are good actors, Tómas Lernarquis was by far the best choice. Not only is he a very dedicated and talented actor, but he also had the look I wanted.

Q: You composed the music for NÓI ?
A: Yes, with my friend Orri. Together we form a band called “slowblow”. There are very few things in life that I enjoy more than making music. That’s why we try to stay away form the business aspect of it. Music is a holiday from our professional lives and we don’t allow anything into the chemistry that can ruin the pleasure. But we have nevertheless managed to release two albums independently and a new one is in the works.

Q: Do you think the theme of the film is very “Icelandic”?
A: It was not my intention to make a typically Icelandic film. I like to make films that take place in an isolated microcosm, in a confined universe that is not really a part of the world as we know it. But not surreal either -- somewhere in between. Apart from that, I guess the film is just my version of a story that has been told over and over again: The young rebel, who doesn’t fit in anywhere and tries to escape. It’s an old cliché but I wanted to do my own version of this kind of story.

Q: Is it something you particularly noticed in Iceland, people wanting to escape or move away? Is it a favorable environment in which to develop this kind of story?
A: Most people move away from Iceland at some point in their lives. It is somehow necessary when you live on an isolated island. But almost everybody returns sooner or later. Regarding this particular story, I wasn’t dealing with Icelandic reality, since I wanted the film to have its own universe.

Q: Do you particularly like the loser type of character like Nói’s father or even Nói himself?
A: To me heroes are extremely boring. I mean people who can do everything. I think it’s more interesting when people are miscommunicating and don’t know how to deal with things. Like in sitcoms where the characters have the same problems in every episode. They never learn and it just continues for ten years. If they were heroes they would just need one episode to solve everything and move on.

Q: Is there a biblical or metaphysical interpretation of the film?
A: I am very interested with myths in a subconscious way. I want the audience to feel with their guts and emotions a connection to something mythical and universal, but if they become intellectually aware of exactly what it is while they watch the film then the task has failed. Nothing is more pathetic to me than stories that have obvious biblical references. If a film has character called Eve, and she picks up an apple, I walk out of the cinema. It has to be very subtle.

Q: Without revealing the film’s conclusion, could we say that the final event is caused by Nói? Could it be seen as some sort of punishment, and if yes why?
A: The ending is supposed to have this double meaning that sometimes the worst thing possible can also reveal a new beginning. You’ve lost everything and it’s terrible but then you’re also liberated. For me it was the only possible escape for Nói, but I don’t want to dig deeper into it than that. It is open for interpretation and the audience has to decide for themselves.

Q: There are some comic and absurdist elements integrated into what is essentially a tragic story. Is this something you intentionally used in order to not make it too tragic?
A: For me it’s the other way around: there are some tragic elements integrated into what can be called a comic story. I always start from humor, and try to avoid plot. But I like to use a definite ending. That’s what makes it a film, instead of a pilot for a sitcom. It’s the same structure in Lost Weekend, with strange, humorous situations and then a curse at the end. I’ve always used this structure and it seems that my future projects will be no exception. But I find it strange that my scripts are like a comic-book, but then the film itself always turns out to be much more serious than anyone had expected, myself included. I don’t know how why this happens. It’s one of these things that I can’t really control.

Q: Is it something you agree with, or do you try to fight it?
A: It is definitely not a conscious thing, but I accept it and find it quite exciting. I always thought Lost Weekend would be more funny than anything else. But when we started shooting I realized that the actors were speaking and moving very slowly. I didn’t ask them to do this, and it was definitely working against the comedy. But it must have come from somewhere, so I decided not to change it and see what would happen to the film.

Q: This happened with NÓI as well?
A: A little bit, but not as radically as in Lost Weekend. The reason is perhaps that Lost Weekend takes place in one very specific location that is heavily atmospheric. So it creates a particular mood. In NÓI it’s different because there are many different locations so you don’t get absorbed by one mood.

Q: Was it hard to shoot the film?
A: It was very hard. We had to depend heavily on the snow, and that winter there was almost no snow. We were extremely lucky because the only snow for the entire winter fell during the shooting of the exterior scenes. I’m happy that no artificial snow was used in the film, and yet it is snowing in almost every shot. Ninety-five percent of the indoor scenes were shot on location. The shooting schedule was tight, and all in all it would have been impossible if we hadn’t been in these small Icelandic villages. Few movies have been made there, so people are not fed up with film crews coming. Everybody is so helpful. In other countries you often have to face monstrous bureaucracies. In this area you just need to make on phone call in order to shoot. The solution for every problem you might have is always just a phone call away.

Q: How does the snow fit into the graphic elements and the atmosphere of the film?
A: It adds a lot of production design just by nature. Also it gives a physical dimension to the film because it’s difficult to move through snow. Especially, when you’re being chased by cops. Physically, it is impossible to get away from a place like this. For the escape scene, I tried to imitate a B-movie car chase, by just adding the snow as a surprise obstacle.

Q: Was it technically difficult to shoot in these weather conditions?
A: Yes, it’s a very strange situation to be hoping for the worst possible weather every day, knowing how difficult it is to shoot in these conditions and how much equipment suffers form the cold. It’s also difficult for the DP to shoot in so much snow, because the contrasts are so exaggerated and hard to deal with.

Q: Where did you meet the DP, Rasmus Videbaek?
A: At the Danish Film School. That’s also where I met the editor Daniel Dencik. It’s the good thing about spending four years together in a school. You develop solid relationships that continue after you leave school.

Q: You have a film project scheduled for Denmark. Do you want to continue shooting in Iceland?
A: I have two or three ideas for film projects but none of them take place in Iceland. One is a Dogma film that I’m currently developing in Copenhagen. I think it’s much easier to work abroad in a foreign language. It helps to abstract things. In Iceland, I know the country and the language so well that it is a bit difficult to get the necessary distance to create a universe of its own. It comes much easier to me when I’m abroad. 

 

 

INTERVIEW WITH TÓMAS LEMARQUIS 

Q: How have you arrived where you are today, personally and professionally?
A: I was born to a French father, and an Icelandic mother. I grew up in Iceland and I still live there today, after having received my degree in dramatic arts from the Cours Florent in Paris. I acted in several short films, and in a feature film, Villiljos, where I met up again with Dagur Kári, whom I already knew because we went to high school together. I was also a newscaster on Icelandic television, a theater actor (one show I did was entered in several festivals in Scandinavia), and a member of a group of artists that submitted a number of pieces to the “Reykjavik, Cultural City 2000” event. I am currently studying at the Reykjavik School of Fine Arts, because I think there is a resonance between all the arts, if the creation is honest and sincere. Also, I’ve always been interested in the visual aspects of dramatic art.

Q: What does it mean to be an actor in Iceland?
A: It means that you can easily make a name for yourself and very quickly make contacts in the industry. The drawback is that it’s a small milieu, and you’ve quickly made the rounds. I would like to have a career as a film actor and continue parallel work in the plastic arts, because its very Icelandic to have more than one occupation. But I’ll work wherever the projects are interesting, no matter which country they’re in. Iceland is a country isolated geographically, but also culturally to some extent. That’s why so many Icelanders go abroad. It’s very common to take a long trip overseas after finishing school. But the ties to Iceland generally remain very strong: the majority of Icelanders eventually come home.

Q: Nói, as a rebellious adolescent revolting against his father, has but one dream: to leave. Is he like you in this way?
A: I admit to a constant need to travel, to be mentally open to new influences. It’s not good to attach yourself too much to certain places. As to the question of rebellion, I did most of mine as an adolescent, even if you can uncover certain aspects of that in my work. When I first read the script for NÓI , I felt an immediate sympathy for the character. Nói is very human, a good person, but someone terribly misunderstood. A feeling that I know well. I think that Nói and I have lots of things in common. He has a kind of devil-may-care attitude that helps him pursue his own direction and not take life too seriously.

Q: What prevents Iris from leaving with Nói?
A: Unlike Nói, she is afraid to follow her path. She’s making her second attempt at building her life, after having failed to make it in Reykjavik. So she’s not ready to take risks. I think she loves Nói, though. I want to believe that at least.

Q: Is Nói in one way or another responsible for the catastrophe that occurs?
A: I don’t think Nói is responsible for it. Nói’s a very mature person, someone who doesn’t attach himself to places or to people. For him, things last as long as they last. He concluded a long time ago that he couldn’t count on anyone but himself. On one hand, that conclusion could facilitate his departure, allowing him to find a place that fits him. I think this is the only possible escape, whether that place has palm trees or not. It’s not a question of whether the catastrophe is good or bad, it’s the fact that life goes on. I tend to see the positive aspects of this otherwise sad story.

 

SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR ICELAND 

Hello – Gódan dag
I’m lost – Ég er tynd
I don’t understand – Ég skil ekki
The cold is killing me – Kuldinn er ad drepa mig!
Let’s go out for dinner – Förum ut ad borda.
I’m allergic to cod – Ég er med ofnæmi fyrir thorski.
When is the next volcano eruption? – Hvenær er næsta eldgos?
What the hell are you doing on my roof? – 
Hvad í andskotanum ertu ad gera á thakinu mínu?
How often do you masturbate? – Hvad fróar thú thér oft?
Give me the money or else I’ll blow your brains out! –
Láttu mig fá peningana eda ég skyt af thér hausinn!

 

 

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