In the ‘90s, the Icelandic film industry was churning out three films per year on average. With that sort of limited output, it’s quite impressive that any children’s films were produced at all. But ‘Stikkfrí,’ or ‘Count Me Out’ in English, is one of the few, and a pretty damn good one at that. Despite the confines of its genre, the film explores unorthodox family structures in ways that few films aimed at a young audience would dare to attempt.
The story revolves around two friends, Hrefna and Yrsa, who both come from broken homes. Hrefna has never known her father and is told by her mother that he lives in Paris with his new wife. On her birthdays, she’s presented with Parisian souvenirs, said to have been sent from the deadbeat himself. Yrsa, on the other hand, gets new fathers regularly, as her mother enjoys an active dating life. When Hrefna learns that her father is in fact living in Iceland, the girls go on a quest to stake him out and eventually force him to acknowledge his offspring.
The girls encounter multiple opportunities to confront the dad, but can never summon the courage; nor is he able to recognize the fruit of his loins. At one point, they visit Yrsa’s biological father, a musician in downtown Reykjavík, who despite being broke and somewhat absent as a parent, involves the girls in the recording of a catchy pop tune. The girls end up breaking into the home of Hrefna’s father and his wife, where the situation escalates when they kidnap their young daughter—Hrefna’s half-sister. On the run with an unruly toddler, the girls are forced to come to grips with what they have done, as the police close in on them.
The movie takes place in just over 24 hours, a one day caper driven by the two heroines. The actresses, Bergþóra Aradóttir and Freydís Kristófersdóttir, do a phenomenal job, essentially carrying the film on their shoulders. The kidnapped baby—not two years old at the time of filming—doesn’t phone it in either. The adult characters are rather secondary. As the adventure plays out, we see them deal with their own problems—bad dates, alcohol abuse, arguing about household chores—and learn that no family has the perfect life.
Innuendo has arrived
No kids’ film would be complete without some adult jokes to keep the grown-ups happy while they watch with the little ones. The always excellent Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir plays a friend who tries to get Hrefna’s mom to party. The girls extort one of Yrsa’s mother’s suitors, kicking off their journey with some scratch. And a “cat lady” neighbour is repeatedly startled by the hubbub.
The film is directed and written by Ari Kristinsson, based on an idea from an unlikely Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, the eccentric maker of some of Iceland’s most renowned Viking Age dramas. Valgeir Guðjónsson of the pop group ‘Stuðmenn’ is responsible for the score, including the song the girls record with Yrsa’s dad, the film’s theme tune ‘Það er komið’ (‘It has arrived’). The color grading is bright, in sharp contrast with most of Icelandic films, and the plot is playful. ‘Count Me Out’—more like, count me in!