It is surprising that even though crime fiction writer Arnaldur Indriðason is something of an industry, being the best-selling writer in Iceland every year for the past 20, there has only been one movie made from his books. This was Jar City (Mýrin), the fourth film directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who at this stage was still on his way to Hollywood. The film won the top prize at the prestigious Karlovy Vary festival, but failed to break in America. That would come later.
Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, Iceland’s most notable actor of the period (and perhaps still), predictably does a fine job as cranky detective Erlendur. Bad guy Theódór Júlíusson manages to look menacing at 57 and Björn Hlynur does his best to downplay his handsomeness and act as the comic foil. The overhead shots of Reykjavik City and the southern peninsula are most impressive.
Additional joys are to be had by seeing things as they once were. Everyone smokes, except the wuss. Phones are just that. And a policeman leaving the station runs into his junkie daughter coming out of neighbouring Hlemmur, once a hangout for the down-and-outs, now a hip food court. Seems like forever ago.
Even more noticeable is Erlendur’s diet. The sheep’s head scene attracted tourist attention to the BSÍ diner, now a more upmarket place called inevitably Mýrin. He also likes kjötsúpa—essentially lamb broth. The older people here—fishermen, and their wives, who all have the same interior décor and eat the same food—represent a world already in the processes of vanishing.
The plot revolves around Decode, a company dedicated to exploring and perhaps exploiting our genes, which has invited criticism for privacy issues and financial misadventure but may also hold the key to preventing deadly diseases. This makes it a timely topic to this day and a great backdrop for a thriller. However, the film never quite goes deep enough to truly examine the problematics connected to examining who we are deep down, instead relegating it to backdrop.
More focus is on the intense drama surrounding Erlendur and his wayward daughter. So much so that one wants more. How did this come into being? Where will it lead? Perhaps inevitably, filming the third book in a 14-book series will give short shrift to some of the characters. Despite the often-impressive production values, it sometimes seems more like a pilot for an ongoing TV series. Quite good as such, but a tad disappointing that it doesn’t go farther. Now that 12 years have passed, it seems unlikely that we will get an ongoing Erlendur series with the same cast. But perhaps someone will film the “young Erlendur” series.”
Fischer up country
It would be most interesting to see someone re-create the Reykjavík of the early ‘70s, but it would probably take a Baltasar-sized budget. In fact, this has once been attempted, in the Tobey Maguire film ‘Pawn Sacrifice,’ about the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972. However, to make the setting appear more Icelandic, they had Fischer live in the countryside. The subject was broached in Arnaldur’s ‘The Duel,’ so it would be interesting to see an Icelandic take on it.
Arnaldur also has a series about Iceland in World War II, a subject never so far committed to celluloid. That would really be something, and the period has certainly been tackled by many a novelist, but budgetary concerns have probably kept the filmmakers away. Still, with all the Hollywood films here, one may dream that the time will finally come for an Icelandic epic.
Info: See Jar City at Bíó Paradís