In 2004, a body was found weighted down in an abandoned harbour near the east Iceland town of Neskaupstaður. The ensuing investigation revealed 61 carefully packaged capsules in the corpse’s stomach—amphetamine laced with cruor. The body had been wrapped in a blanket and tossed into an obscure stretch of the fjord. Nobody was reported missing in the local community. It was a mystery.
Some sort of ghost
The victim, of course, had a name. The body turned out to be that of Vaidas Jucevicius—a Lithuanian national. This grisly sequence of events—and the untangling of what led to Vaidas’s death and its concealment—is dramatised in Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon’s new film, ‘Mihkel’ (‘Undir Halastjörnu’ in Icelandic, or ‘Under the Comet’).
“The nation of Iceland is like a family,” says Ari. “There was a dead body, yet no one from the community was missing. This meant that the body belonged to an outsider. There was a sigh of relief that it was a foreigner.”
The body was found, in a twist of fate, by a diver in an unused harbour. “This element of chance haunts me,” the director goes on. “The guy who confessed to the crime obviously felt bad about it. They were unlucky that a diver happened to go into Neskaupstaður harbour the following day. It’s just unbelievable—nobody was even using this harbour anymore. It was some sort of a ghost. It was never supposed to happen. None of this was.”
Known for his documentaries, the director describes ‘Mihkel’ as a “misunderstood” film amongst his works. “I guess there’s no truth in life, but it is true that as an artist you are hungry for creation,” he says. “People know me for my documentaries, as a person who makes films about artists. That may be why Icelanders think ‘Mihkel’ must be seen as a documentary. But it is a film that explores the events taking place during 2004 through the historical and political dimensions, weaving through the relationship of the West with Estonia and Russia.”
Scheme gone wrong
As it turns out, Vaidas’ death was the result a smuggling operation gone wrong, and a truly tragic story. Shortly after touching down in Iceland, Vaidas began to complain of abdominal pains, and was unable to pass the bag of capsules he had swallowed. As the days passed, Vaidas and his two Icelandic partners in crime agonised over what to do, deciding that they could not take him to a hospital, lest their smuggling attempt be found out.
Unfortunately, Vaidas’ condition only worsened, and he eventually died. His partners, in an attempt to cover their tracks, opted to toss his body into Neskaupsstaður harbour. But when the body was discovered, it blew the lid off the whole operation.
“What is murder between two friends?” Ari contemplates out loud.
Since 2011, Iceland has held the title for being the safest nation in the world, according to the Global Peace Index. Nevertheless, this “murder between friends” resulted in a 30 month conviction, only half of which was served. As the ripples of this wretched case fade away with time, Ari’s film is a jarring reminder that these events are a cautionary tale perhaps best best kept alive in the public consciousness.