“Brothers will battle.” The ominous foretelling of Ragnarök, the heathen armageddon, in the prophecy the Völuspá is also the central theme of ‘Foxtrot’ (English title: ‘Codename Foxtrott’), the 1988 Icelandic thriller history has all but forgotten.
In the late 80s, Icelandic filmmaking was still in its developing stages. ‘Foxtrot’ was one of only two films to be released in 1988 after only one had premiered the year before, the equally intriguing ‘White Whales’ (‘Skytturnar’), director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s fiction-feature debut. However, the filmmakers and their Nordic co-financiers had ambitions for international success, recording every scene in ‘Foxtrot’ in both Icelandic and English, in preparation for global distribution. If the English version was ever completed, it remains unavailable to this day.
The film, directed by Jón Tryggvason, is essentially an action road movie in the vein of 1980s American filmmaking. The protagonist, Tommi (Steinarr Ólafsson), an 18-year-old footballer, accepts a job with his 36-year-old half-brother Kiddi (Valdimar Flygenring), transporting a large sum of money from Reykjavík to the east coast. Kiddi is a national hero, having played football professionally in Spain, whereas Tommi is publicly shamed wherever he goes for missing a penalty shot in a U-21 match against Iceland’s main rivals, Denmark. He idolises his older brother, whom he didn’t see much of growing up.
When the brothers join up with fellow members of their convoy, Kiddi recites the Icelandic proverb “ber er hver að baki”—he without a brother has no one to guard his back. When the convoy is split up by a glacial outburst flood, the brothers must continue the mission alone, albeit with a stowaway in the trunk. The presence of hitchhiker Lísa, played by María Ellingsen of ‘D2: The Mighty Ducks’ fame, quickly exacerbates the fraternal discord.
The narrative is compelling throughout the 93-minute runtime, with many exciting set pieces sprinkled in. In one early scene, where the brothers accidentally hit a stray sheep in the middle of the road, their characters are revealed by their respective reactions. “It’s dead! Stone dead!” the elder yells, dismissing his brother’s sympathy. Gradually we see the true Kiddi reveal himself, for underneath the aviator shades and leather jacket dwells one of Icelandic cinema’s most heinous villains.
Tears of stone
Much of this is owed to screenwriter Sveinbjörn I. Baldvinsson, who also wrote the excellent 1995 drama ‘Tár úr steini’ (‘Tears of Stone’), which is largely set in Germany during the rise of Nazism. The tight script makes ‘Foxtrot’ a functional film (more than can be said about the bulk of Icelandic cinema), while the passing of time has given the visual aspects a certain quaint charm. The cinematography by Karl Óskarsson is excellent for its time and the use of a glacial flood as a plot point is a stroke of genius. Last but not least, the action is beautifully scored by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, while Norwegian pop star Jan Bang—a collaborator of A-ha’s Morten Harket, no less—provides the climactic anthem “Frozen Feelings.”
‘Foxtrot’ can not be accessed on any online streaming services that this newspaper is aware of. The Reykjavík Grapevine does not condone piracy, but the entire film is on YouTube (though without subtitles), just sitting there, waiting to be rediscovered. ‘Foxtrot’ may have looked dead for a while, but not stone dead.