Starring: Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Babetida Sadjo, Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson
Director: Isold Uggadottir
Running Time: 102 mins
And Breathe Normally (Andið eðlilega) is an Icelandic film about a struggling single mother living in Reykjavík and an asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau whose paths briefly cross, but find themselves inextricably linked as they go through a period of deep uncertainty in their lives.
It may be slow, and it may not be showy in the slightest, but And Breathe Normally is one of those stunningly moving dramatic pieces that takes its time in crafting an enthralling story with both a grounded and timely look at modern society, as well as incredible performances and cinematography that make for a deeply immersive and engrossing watch throughout.
There’s a lot that makes this a really strong film, but the one thing that really struck me about And Breathe Normally was just how bold it was with its screenplay. While it’s a topic that’s undoubtedly full of depth, the daily struggles of people in poverty isn’t something new to the big screen, yet this film takes that premise and uses it in a striking new manner to really grab your attention.
So, while we follow the riveting story of a single mother doing everything she can to stay on her feet despite being in financial ruin, her life crosses paths with another woman whose life also takes a dramatic downturn, as she’s refused exit to Canada to seek asylum, and is forced to remain in Iceland to undergo due process and investigation regarding her claim for asylum.
Both stories make for fascinating and moving viewing, and the film’s heavy-going atmosphere lends further dramatic depth to both, but what really makes the film so stunning is that their initial relationship is only a fleeting encounter, a few moments of seemingly routine business that changes the life of one of the women irreparably.
It’s a bold and unique way to tell two stories simultaneously, but you really feel the long-term impact of the two women’s brief encounter, and it’s something that brings about stunning drama, as you watch their respective situations change with the moment that it all changed fresh in the mind, something that plays an integral role in the stunning emotional drama that develops towards the end of the film.
Both of the two leads are fantastic throughout. Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir plays Lára, a single mother who takes up a job as a border guard to support her young son as they fall into bankruptcy, and not only is she a likable and thoroughly enthralling person to support and follow as you watch, her performance is very reserved, and that’s something that plays into the film’s dramatic atmosphere very well, never resorting to the melodrama that many actors do often take to in these sorts of roles.
Meanwhile, Babetida Sadjo plays Adja, a young woman from Guinea-Bissau who attempts to reach Canada to seek asylum, having travelled to Iceland from France under the Schengen Agreement, but is unexpectedly refused exit. From that moment on, Sadjo’s performance is just as moving, if not even more so, than Haraldsdóttir’s, as she portrays a stunning calmness and assuredness despite the situation her character finds herself in, again making her an enthralling and endlessly likable presence that you really want to see succeed throughout.
On top of the moving story and excellent performances, a mention has to go to the cinematography here, as And Breathe Normally commands a visual majesty that few films tackling the same subject are able to. Using the harsh Icelandic landscape and climate to great effect, the film is often a powerfully bleak watch, but with strong, intimate directing alongside, it retains an intimate and personal feel as well, making for both a heavy-going and still emotionally entrancing watch simultaneously.
If there’s one problem that I would have with this film, it’s that it does lack a little bit of clarity in its opening stages, particularly with regard to Adja’s story. It’s fascinating to follow the story of a woman having to undergo the procedures and investigations that we so often hear about surrounding asylum seekers, and the confusion she feels as a result is enthralling, but I felt that there wasn’t quite enough exposition about Adja’s background to really help you empathise with her initially, leaving things a little too late to bring about information that would have served a far better role earlier on in the film.
With that said, And Breathe Normally is a truly fascinating and deeply moving watch from beginning to end. With an intimate and emotionally enthralling story, two stunning lead performances, and exceptional cinematography, the movie hooks you from the start, and regardless of its slower pacing, it’s a brilliantly-made piece right the way through, which is why I’m giving it a 7.9 overall.