Starring: Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Victoria Abril, Hanna María Karlsdóttir
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Running Time: 88 mins
101 Reykjavík is an Icelandic film about a 30 year old man, still living with his mother and barely leaving his local neighbourhood, whose layabout lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of Lola, a Spanish woman with whom his mother has fallen in love. However, when he and Lola end up sleeping together one night, it creates enormous tensions in the new family dynamic.
Perfectly balanced between comedy and drama, 101 Reykjavík manages to be both brilliantly entertaining and genuinely engrossing from start to finish. Although it may stray into somewhat melodramatic territory at times, it’s a convincing and well-written scenario, excellently directed by Baltasar Kormákur and featuring three fantastic central performances, all of which makes for a captivating hour and a half.
Let’s start off with what’s best about this film: the directing. Very often, a story that sits so sharply on the fence between pure dark comedy and pure romantic drama can fall into very dull and overly heavy territory, meaning that neither its lighter side nor its genuinely interesting elements can shine through as well. Fortunately, that’s not the case with 101 Reykjavík, as it balances all of the genres fantastically from start to finish.
Undoubtedly helped by its short running time, the film is actually quite an easy-going and pleasant experience throughout. Contrast that with another of Kormákur’s black comedies: Devil’s Island, which is far from a pleasant watch, and you begin to realise how impressive it is that the film manages to pull off its darkly comedic story so well.
Now, there is somewhat of a fantastical farce in the idea of a lonely man still living with his mother suddenly encountering a beautiful and promiscuous woman all the way from Southern Europe. The contrasts in culture between Iceland and Spain play a big part in the film, and the way that Lola brings a completely different sense of energy and life to Reykjavik at the height of the dark and cold winter has a big impact on the whole story.
And whilst the relationships and tensions that unfold once the two have sex are fascinating to watch, this film also succeeds because it’s a very genuine and engaging portrayal of day-to-day life in a small city district. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about it, and the dark cinematography that barely lets you see anything that the place has to offer (emphasising how dark and depressing it can get in the winter), means that it’s the characters that stand out even more at the centre of the story, something that’s absolutely vital for a black comedy such as this.
Featuring excellent performances from Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Victoria Abril in the two lead roles, as they’re both very funny and yet engaging enough to work as the centre of the film’s dramatic story, while they also work very well together as an odd couple that never really seem to fit together, no matter how much one side may want it to come about.
But that leads me into my one real qualm with this film: its final act. While still entertaining and interesting to watch, particularly given the bizarre nature in which a son appears to have cheated on his mother by sleeping with her girlfriend, everything feels a little bit too melodramatic.
Although it’s a pretty big deal that the final act centres around, the increasingly sentimental way the characters seem to act towards the end of the film really feels like it comes out of the blue, and that the situation doesn’t merit such dramatic responses in all reality.
Overall, however, I had a great time with 101 Reykjavík. Genuinely entertaining and fully engrossing, all the while featuring great performances and excellent directing, it’s a fantastic watch throughout, save for a few moments where it oversteps the mark with regards to its emotion, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.8.