"What is it you do in life?" Lola asks Hlynur.
"What kind of nothing?" "The nothing kind of nothing."
Hlynur is not exaggerating. The protagonist of "101 Reykjavik," possibly the first and certainly the most successful Icelandic slacker comedy ever to reach this country, has so dissociated himself from adult life that his New Year's resolution is to get himself out of bed by noon.
Though he's pushing 30, Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) still lives with his tolerant mother Berglind (Hanna Maria Karlsdottir) in downtown Reykjavik (the title refers to their postal code). She buys him underwear, doesn't press too hard about his lack of a job and shares his taste for drugs: "No hash over Christmas for both of us," mom insists.
When he's not on his computer at home, complaining, in the film's ironic running voice-over, about the absence of pornography on daytime TV, Hlynur hangs out at his local pub, a party-animal headquarters where everyone manages to be falling down drunk while standing up.
Handsome in a disassociated way despite his perpetual half-smirk, Hlynur views life at a remove, through black-rimmed glasses. He's intelligent enough to be cynical, to mockingly describe a local flea market as the only true museum in Reykjavik, a home to genuine cultural treasures, but he's not smart enough to realize what a dead end his cynicism has become. An emotional innocent for all his bravado, Hlynur can't handle the complexity even minimal human relationships demand.
Hlynur is especially inept with women, including his on-and-off girlfriend Hofi (Thrudur Vilhjalmsdottir). Then his mother invites Lola, her English-speaking Spanish flamenco teacher, home for dinner, and everything changes.
Lola, not surprisingly, is everything Hlynur is not. An avowed lesbian, she is also, not to put too fine a point on it, the life force, a jolt of irresistible energy, and she is not charmed by Hlynur's lassitude. "You're sleepwalking through life," she accurately informs him at one point, "and you're too dumb to realize it." Hlynur finds himself attracted to Lola and, in the film's central twist, so does his mother.
Lola is played by veteran Spanish actress Victoria Abril, one of Pedro Almodovar's favorites, and though the character sounds familiar, Abril brings so much zest and enthusiasm to its creation that it feels original and makes the passion she inspires believable.
Similarly, as written and directed by Baltasar Kormakur from a popular Icelandic novel, "101 Reykjavik" is in general not as schematic as unstoppable-force-versus-immovable-object movies tend to be. When real life, after leaving Hlynur alone for all those years, suddenly gangs up on him with a vengeance, the plot complications get outlandish. The film also finds a way to get more serious while still being true to its genial, amused sensibility.
For non-Icelandic viewers, "101 Reykjavik" is also of interest for the beautifully photographed glimpse, eccentric though it may be, into life in that little-known country. Hlynur may grumble about living in a city that's "like some backwater in Siberia," but it's a dissatisfaction that's tinged with pride.
"101 Reykjavik's" other great advantage is its exceptional soundtrack. Put together by Damon Albarn, lead singer for the British pop band Blur, and Icelandic icon Einar Orn, who founded the Sugarcubes with Bjork a few years back, the soundtrack's lively, insinuating sounds feature more musical variations on the Kinks' classic "Lola" than one would have imagined possible. As both Hlynur and his mother discover, that woman can certainly get under your skin.
No MPAA rating. Times guidelines: nudity and scenes of explicit sexuality.
Hilmir Snaer: Gudnason Hlynur
Victoria Abril: Lola
Hanna Maria Karlsdottir: Berglind
Thrudur Vilhjalmsdottir: Hofi
In association with the Icelandic Film Fund, Eurimages, Zentropa Entertainment, Filmhuset Liberator and Troika, a 101 Ltd. Production. Director Baltasar Kormakur. Producers Ingvar H. Thordarson, Baltasar Kormakur. Screenplay Baltasar Kormakur, based on the novel by Hallgrimu Helgason. Music Damon Albarn, Einar Orn. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.
Slackers in Icelandin '101 Reykjavik'
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