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Review: Scandinavian Film Festival, Paris of the North (2014)

Review: Scandinavian Film Festival, Paris of the North (2014)

| On 29, Jul 2015

As far as boring lives go, Hugi in The Paris of the North, is living one of the most painful. To compare this place to Paris is having a lend of your good humour. Hugi, the central character played by Bjorn Thors, is a teacher in a small town in Iceland.  The film opens just as school is about to break for the summer, meaning still 3 layers of clothes are required at any given time.
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Size is everything in this film directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson. Living in a town, population 150, there are six students in Hugi’s class, three people at his AA meeting – the counsellor and Hugi’s ex-girlfriend’s (played by Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir) ex -, and there are probably an additional 10 extras throughout the entire film four of which include the band, Prins Póló who provide the Hugi’s running soundtrack and who make a cameo appearance.  The only other two main characters are Arthur’s grandpa, also the AA counsellor, and Arthur’s father, played by Helgi Björnsson. The stifling village is dominated by a massive mountain, almost the sole notable natural aesthetic in the surrounding landscape. Only a massive rock could survive in this hostile environment anyway. Even the prefabricated houses appear to temporarily rest on the land.

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What makes the film interesting is how an intolerable situation, being surrounded by intolerable people compromises your morality. The characters are all very realistic, especially the Hugi’s revolting father. Stereotypically, Hugo’s father, Veigar, ran a bar in Thailand and likes the Thai girls at the petrol station. He brings about his own comeuppance, resorting to using a rubber band on his penis to keep up with Hugi’s ex-girlfriend, who is obviously used to having to take sex from which ever dim log it creeps out from.

paris_of_the_northAlthough Hugi is the central character, it becomes painfully obvious that this is also a story about the young and impressionable Arthur who is thrown about between the adults as they resort to various escapisms to cope with the limited personal space. While all the adults are attempting to excape in some way or another, Arthur is left the more alone. “Don’t forget to practice” Hugi advises him before leaving the town at the end of the film. It is little wonder Arthur wants to be an explorer like Columbus, but most likely will turn to the drugs he sees his father depending on. For his school holidays, Arthur’s choice of friend is his teacher, Hugi. “Here I am with all my loved ones” says Veigar in one scene, the camera contradicting this statement by centring Arthur in the shot, and between the two people who should care most about him, his mother and Hugi.  Veigar has barely had time to get to love anything in the short space of time he’s been in the town, especially with the distraction of Erna.

This movie is realism at it’s best. The camera works as hard as the narrative to tell the story of our compromised morality when we struggle with the reality of our situation. Given the smallness, even the most ordinary things are ironically comical, such as Hugi constantly running into his ex, or the ridiculousness of a child trying to have a childhood without any peers.  It may make you double think your idealistic idea that you wanted to go and visit Iceland. This film certainly does not make the Icelandic small town way of life seem anything like Parisian.

THE DETAILS

What Scandinavian Film Festival 2015

When Screening nationally until 29 July 2015

Website ScandinavianFilmFestival.com

Image of Hugi running credited to cineuropa.com.   Images of house and AA meeting credited to variety.com.  Image in pool credited to thehollywoodreporter.com.