101 Reykjavík (2000)    1 Stars

“30° below zero, five hours of daylight, what else can you do but get wrecked”


101 Reykjavik (2000)

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Cast: Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Victoria Abril, Hanna María Karlsdóttir

Synopsis: Thirty-year-old Hlynur still lives with his mother and spends his days drinking, watching porn and surfing the net while living off unemployment checks.




101 is the postal code for Reykjavik’s town centre, and is effectively the confines within which near thirty-year-old slacker Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) wishes to live his ambition-free life in the movie 101 Reykjavik. Still living with his mother in a tiny flat in which the bath doubles as a couch, Hlynur has never worked a day in his life, and spends his days surfing the internet for porn, masturbating to aerobics programmes on TV, ignoring mail from the employment exchange, and getting drunk in the local pub at the weekend. However, although he obsessively seeks sex on the internet, he is so shy of making any commitment to his devoted girlfriend, Hofi (Bruour Vilhjalmsdottir), that she dejectedly feigns sleep as he slinks from her apartment after sex rather than risk having to engage in intimate conversation.

The arrival of flamenco dance teacher Lola (Victoria Abril), however, shatters Hlynur’s cosy little world. An outspoken Spanish firebrand, Lola has no insecurities: when she spots Hlynur spying on her as she showers, she brazenly turns full-frontal before pulling the shower curtain. Hlynur is intrigued, and the inevitable occurs after a drunken New Years Eve party — during which Lola declares she is a lesbian — when the couple make violent love in his mother’s apartment while she is visiting relatives.

Although the nature of Icelandic life plays a major part in Icelandic actor Baltasar Kormakur’s directorial debut, this is a tale that could take place in almost any country in the free world. Saturday night, proclaims Hlynur in a series of wry voice-overs, is simply Friday Night: the Sequel, except in the sequel the same characters get to die all over again. And while the American slacker movies of the Nineties are the influence that immediately springs to mind, 101 Reykjavik bears only a passing resemblance to that mini-genre.

There is no romance in 101 Reykjavik, even though it is largely a movie about relationships between men and women, and the ‘hero’ is never a particularly likable person (check out the pleasure he gets from issuing a parking ticket to the woman who left him because he emotionally deserted her when she was pregnant) — although, in terms of the quality of writing, this has to be considered one of the movie’s strengths. And there are undertones in this movie, barely hinted at, but which suggest darker motives at work: in one scene, a childhood Hlynur closes the door on his drunken father and climbs into the bed of his mother, who turns her back on him. The camera pans away from her — and the previously black-and-white screen is almost unnoticeably transformed into colour — to reveal an adult Hlynur, who leans across to embrace a naked, sleeping Lola. While inevitably transforming the mother and son’s lives, Lola drives a wedge between them which is never more evident than during the scene in which Hlynur’s mother confesses both her lesbianism and her love for Lola: throughout her confession, mother and son never share the same shot; only when their conversation is over, and his mother suggests he start responding to the employment exchange’s letters before she leaves the table (indicating a conclusive change in their relationship) does the camera briefly capture them together.

For the final twenty minutes 101 Reykjavik’s storyline comes dangerously close to descending into an almost farcical sexual situation comedy, which is at odds with the careful development of the main characters. The conclusion is sadly weak, but there is so much good work in the first hour that it would perhaps be cruel to berate a first-time writer/director for failing to maintain the standard. Kormakur crafts some terrific scenes, both poignant and humorous — the scene in which Hofi presents Hlynur with his Christmas present stands out — but there is a strong indication here of a notable talent not quite yet developed to its full potential.