“It’s a film about two families that are forced to spend time together,” ‘Country Wedding’ director Valdís Óskarsdóttir explained to the Grapevine in 2008. “They can stand each other for one hour but they get lost and instead of one hour, they are together for five hours. Then things start to pop up.”
At a wedding, people of all ages, from all walks of life, united by nothing but arbitrary yet profound ties of blood, gather together to work their emotions up to a fever pitch. In one of cinema’s purest examples of the wedding-film genre, ‘Country Wedding’ invites more than a dozen of Iceland’s best-known contemporary actors to one place, and loads them up with repressed sexual yearnings, violent urges, buried secrets, feuds, affairs, and general mayhem.
It’s a bad sign when the groom shows up the morning of his nuptials with his head shaved; matters are not improved by unreliable friends, unwanted relatives, and unexpected detours. The wedding party is heading out of town in two busses—one for his family, one for hers, and both contributing to the generally carnivalesque atmosphere—but the groom’s deep and abiding fear of tunnels forces them to take the long way around Hvalfjörður. The caravan is looking for “a white church with a red roof” but the priest who’s set to preside is too distracted by a can of lager and a football game to give good directions.
‘Country Wedding’ is perhaps the most successful film by the Vesturport theatre company. Founded in 2001 by a collective including future Hollywood character actors Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, and Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Vesturport became known for conceptually ambitious productions, touring internationally with adaptations of Büchner’s ‘Woyzeck’ and Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ featuring music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The company’s experimental, egalitarian approach extends to their films, ensemble works with deep casts and unpredictable moods, beginning with Ragnar Bragason’s black-and-white companion films ‘Children’ (2006) and ‘Parents’ (2007), featuring loosely connected stories of urban life, sometimes gritty and sometimes darkly comic.
‘Country Wedding’ and ‘King’s Road’ (2010), also directed by Valdís Óskarsdóttir, about the flamboyantly lost souls populating a trailer park, feel more like plays, with constrained settings and actors bouncing off each other like charged particles. They’re similar to the films of the English director Mike Leigh, which he develops through one-on-one character-based improv with his cast, so that each character comes across as at once a potential larger-than-life gravitational center, and a piece of the overall narrative plan. Likewise, Valdís worked on the story of ‘Country Wedding’ in individual rehearsals with each actor, independently developing the characters’ backstories, personalities, and the buried secrets—one for everyone—which would inevitably “start to pop up” once the cast was unleashed on each other.
How to watch: SAMFilm’s Icelandic DVD, with English subtitles, is available from Amazon.co.uk and from many Reykjavík libraries.