A family of three – with another child very soon on the way – is sent into a tailspin when the husband, Pétur (Hilmar Jónsson), learns that he is not the biological father of his son, Örn (Aron Brink Sigurjónsson), who looks to be about ten years old. Örn’s mother Ásta (Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir) initially denies having had an affair, so Pétur moves out at once and goes off on a carnival of booze, self-pity, and starting a live-in relationship with his emotionally imbalanced receptionist. But rather depicting these events with a farcical or sentimental treatment, the characters in this family act and react to each other the way you imagine people would in such a situation – on edge but restrained as much as possible.
Pétur’s descent into a Hotel Nordica minibar-fuelled hell is delivered with a relaxed honesty by Jónsson. His behaviour ranges from funny to caddish to self-destructive, every bit of it wincingly believable.
It is hard to like Ásta. The self-righteous indignation that she hurls at Pétur for accusing her of having an affair, considering the evidence (it turns out Örn has a different blood type than his parents, who are both Os), not to mention the smug front she tries to maintain when she serves Pétur with divorce papers, make her seem incredibly egocentric. But as unlikeable as she might be at times, she often shows touching vulnerability, just as Pétur can be boorish and immature.
These two central characters sum up where Blóðbönd succeeds – the film avoids the traditional Icelandic cinematic technique of using one-dimensional stock characters that bounce off each other like players in a Benny Hill sketch, and shows us instead real, multidimensional people reacting to a crisis in a highly believable way, warts and all.
Pétur’s sister and her fiancé see Pétur through his four-star bender, until he begins to date Anna (Laufey Elísasdóttir), a girl about ten years younger than him who works as a receptionist at his optometry clinic. Pétur’s sister, who comes closest to being the most “stable” character in the story, throws Pétur out when she learns of his affair, so he moves in with Anna. Pétur and Anna’s relationship is one of the best played of the film, as difficult as it can be to watch sometimes. Friends regard Pétur’s almost scary state of denial with disbelief, and Anna proves to be volatile and unpredictable – at one point waking up Pétur’s wife at her home, looking for him. Eventually, her erratic behaviour snaps him out of his pity fog.
Örn remains oblivious to the whole story, knowing only that his dad is “away” for the time being, although his friend tells him, “Your mom is acting just like my mom acted when my dad left.” From there on out, Örn doesn’t get a moment’s peace. The movie ends on Örn, too, with all the right questions unanswered. We leave the family in the tense, polite calm of a cease-fire, some compromise reached that no one is happy with, and will surely be the cause of a future catastrophe.
The chaotic behaviour of people in crisis keeps Blóðbönd going, without attempting to neatly wrap it all up at the end, nor to caricaturise it throughout. If anything could have been done differently, it would probably be avoiding the extreme close-ups – we sometimes got a very close look at someone’s eye or nostril, likely in an effort to make us sympathise or feel emotional, though this is mostly just distracting and affected. But overall, Blóðbönd might mark a turning point in Icelandic film in its unflinching portrayal of a family in turmoil.