by Ben Diamond
Sometimes film festivals throw up the odd gem and you are rewarded for being adventurous. Whilst many people’s rosters for festivals are studded with big-name previews which are due to go on general release within the next few months anyway, it’s good to throw some wildcards into the mix. And by wildcards, I basically mean Weird Foreign Shit. The BFI LFF page had a good filter option where it listed films by country, and so I decided that I simply wanted to see an Icelandic film this year, checked under ‘I’, and, lo and behold, one film, and one film only, bearing the Icelandic flag this year, and that film was Virgin Mountain, or, as it has been titled natively, ‘Fúsi‘, the name of our protagonist.
I feel like Virgin Mountain strikes the perfect balance of humour and sadness, whilst at the same time keeping its subject at arm’s length, as if this is a nature documentary, tracking Fúsi as he searches for a girlfriend, the camera looking on with indifference. Fúsi isn’t actually that keen to find a girlfriend and is under pressure to do so from his mum, and in this set-up we find the perfect comic balance – a loner half-heartedly looking for a partner, partially coerced into doing it against his own will, and perhaps finding himself in too deep when he achieves some success in the dating game. Tinder does not appear to have reached Iceland yet. Curiously, at one point some of Fúsi’s workmates ask him if he’s up for going to the pub to ‘watch Fulham play Aston Villa’ – I didn’t realise Icelanders were that into the English Premier League.
Fúsi is actually happiest when he is looking after his next-door neighbour’s daughter, who is often left alone by her negligent father. The two strike up an unusual relationship, like a docile bear becoming friends with a mouse. The two share an interest in toys – Fúsi being interested in battle re-enactment, Hera (played by the director’s daughter) being more of a Barbie kind of person. There is something tragic about an adult man playing with miniature tanks, but when he’s playing with Hera, something is transformed, and it was quite wonderful to watch this relationship unfold. I appreciate Dagur Kári tackling the subject of adult-child friendships that most directors seem to shy away from, because of the obvious taboos surrounding it (also dealt with in the film). I was reminded of Miranda July’s (great) film Me and You and Everyone We Know, which also dealt with the subject in an original and challenging way.
There was an excellent tragicomic moment in the film when Fúsi’s mum is talking to Fúsi and her new boyfriend (for Fúsi’s mum is outperforming her own son in the dating/mating game) and she is trying to remember someone famous dying, and the effect it had on Fúsi, who, we learn, was very upset when he heard the news. Various people are suggested – John Kennedy, etc. Eventually Fúsi’s mum has found her answer. “Kurt Cowbrain.” And just for a moment we catch a glimpse of what it feels like to be an outcast in a freezing-cold place where you’re the only person to have heard of Nirvana.