From Iceland — Of Dreams And Metaphors

Of Dreams And Metaphors

Published November 7, 2023

Of Dreams And Metaphors
Photo by
Art Bicnick
Supplied stills

In Our Happiest Days, Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière explores ageing and references her own Iceland obsession 

“Every time I land in Iceland, I cry,” says director and scriptwriter Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière as we meet during the off-peak hours at a local art house cinema to discuss her second feature film, Our Happiest Days (Nuestros días más felices). At 27, Sol has already made waves in her homeland and worldwide, with Our Happiest Days embarking on a festival circuit and receiving awards since 2021. Ahead of the film’s Icelandic premiere, Sol opens up about her deep connection to Iceland, the exploration of happiness and sadness and the intriguing role rabbits play in her storytelling.

“It’s an essay on what happiness is and what sadness is. Aren’t they the same?”

Born in Argentina, Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière fell in love with Iceland at the age of eight when she stumbled on a picture of the country in an English class textbook. From that moment on, Iceland became a dream Sol was determined to chase. “Iceland is my favourite country in the world, even if it’s the complete opposite of my native country,” she says. After first visiting Iceland, the obsession only grew – Sol started learning Icelandic and got interested in Scandinavian cinema and literature. In particular, the 2003 film Nói Albinói by Dagur Kári fuelled Sol’s fascination. She explains, “I found the idea of this isolated island in the middle of nowhere to be a symbol of something I wanted to reach.” 

“I always felt like I was like a darker person compared to my country. I didn’t like the sun,” shares Sol. “It depressed me.” In contrast, she had a deep appreciation for snow, which she first saw in Iceland. Sol kicked off her directing career in Argentina with her first feature film Mum, Mum, Mum (Mamá, mamá, mamá), shot with an entirely female crew and cast. About a year ago, Sol made the move to Iceland. She first took on a role within the Reykjavík Feminist Film Festival, worked as a producer on the latest edition of the Reykjavík International Film Festival and is currently involved in several ongoing film projects while teaching at the Icelandic Film School.

Intertwining happiness and sadness

Sol describes Our Happiest Days as a film that delves into the theme of old age, emphasising that both old age and childhood are moments in life when people reveal their true selves without wearing masks. The story revolves around a 74-year-old woman who suddenly finds herself in the body of her 7-year-old self. She grapples with the challenges of ageing in reverse, relying on her daughter to help her navigate the situation and confront family dynamics, the fear of dying alone and lost opportunities for happiness. “It shows how the relationship with her daughter and son completely changes,” Sol explains, “how they start to parent their parent and how they kind of help her to go from this life.” 

Photo by Art Bicnick

“It’s an essay on what happiness is and what sadness is. Aren’t they the same?” she ponders. “Sadness is underestimated. It’s a very honest and enlightening feeling that we’re usually afraid of,” she says.“[The film] is a metaphor for speaking about something very natural – our parents growing old and dying.” 

“It’s nice to dress your work with little symbolic things and details.”

The idea for the film took shape when Sol wanted to work again with actress ​​Matilde Creimer Chiabrando, who had previously starred in her debut feature. “I wanted to create a character that showed what an old soul she is,” Sol says of the young actress. She also admits that her own family dynamics with her grandparents inspired the film. “I felt there was a dynamic in the family that nobody was addressing, like how they [her grandparents] became more needy,” she says, explaining how this observation turned into a central metaphor in the film.

Following the rabbits

The making of Our Happiest Days took an unusually short time – the film was written, shot, post-produced and released in a span of one year. Sol agrees that the programme supporting emerging filmmakers played an important part in the process. “It was done with a special programme that I advise filmmakers making their first or second feature to check out. It’s called Biennale College Cinema, which is a fund from La Biennale di Venezia that gives you mentorship and follows you throughout the process. Then they screen your film at the festival,” Sol explains.

Still from Our Happiest Days 

In addition to the magic realism event in the form of age transformation, Sol also introduces fantasy elements through the presence of rabbits, representing destiny and the journey into an enchanting world, much like in Alice in Wonderland. Symbolism involving rabbits first appeared in Sol’s debut film and the director is determined to incorporate them in her future work as well. 

“Rabbits follow destiny and instincts, not something that is very logical,” she explains. “For me, being in Iceland, it’s like a big rabbit that I’ve been chasing for many years.” She emphasises that rabbits don’t necessarily need to be understood in any specific way. “It’s nice to dress your work with little symbolic things and details,” she says.

Sol drew inspiration from 1960s magic realism writers from Argentina and the film Happy as Lazzaro by Alice Rohrwacher, which also incorporates elements of magic realism.

Icelandic influences 

“One of the film’s characters is kind of an alter ego of myself and is obsessed with Iceland,” Sol shares. “For me, Iceland was always like a paradise. A paradise is usually a place you don’t own yet; it’s a place that is far and somehow unreachable. This is what Iceland represents for that character, a place that is very far away, a dream – and our dreams sometimes don’t come true.” Sol reflects on her journey, saying, “My biggest accomplishment in life has been moving here because it seemed like the most random thing I could have done, to continue my career in Iceland?” Given the connection to Iceland in the film, it feels very symbolic for Sol to show it here. 

Still from Our Happiest Days

The influence of the Icelandic band múm on Sol’s personal and creative life is undeniable. She admits, “It’s my favourite band. The atmosphere and the music were mainly inspired by múm.” The band’s song “Slow Down” was generously provided for use in the film for free by múm’s founding member Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason. Former band member Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir even agreed to perform before the Icelandic premiere.

Sol also speaks about her desire to replicate the light she saw in Iceland in the film, a challenge given the warm light in Argentina. She explains, “It’s always been very difficult for me to find the light that I like.” Sol aimed to orient the film to cyan hues, cold tones and a pale, ocean-like wash in terms of visual texture. She admits that only recently while shooting a short film in Iceland, she finally saw the light she had been chasing for many years.

Sol confesses that it’s more about life in the city than the oft touted otherworldly landscapes that ignites her affection for Iceland. “There’s a place I like to go and think – a bench next to The Unknown Bureaucrat statue by the lake.” It’s also the welcoming atmosphere of Bíó Paradís, musical programmes at Mengi and 12 Tónar, and even routine supermarket visits that she still romanticises. “I feel at home even though it’s completely different from my home.”

Our Happiest Days premieres at Bíó Paradís on November 1

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