From Iceland — Three Icelandic Christmas Movies To Watch Over The Holidays

Three Icelandic Christmas Movies To Watch Over The Holidays

Three Icelandic Christmas Movies To Watch Over The Holidays

Published December 22, 2020

Valur Grettisson
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Screenshot Of 'Bergmál'

Icelandic filmmaking gets better every year. But while most Icelandic filmmakers are fond of dramas, they only occasionally pop out a Christmas movie. And even then, it’s barely a Christmas movie, but others compare macho nonsense like ‘Die Hard’ a Christmas movie, so what the title even mean really?

Anyway, here are three Icelandic movies that have obvious connections with Christmas in one way or another.

101 Reykjavík

First off, ‘101 Reykjavík’ is the number one must-see Icelandic black comedy. Named after the postcode of central Reykjavík, it tells the story of 30-year-old no-good slacker and barely functioning alcoholic Hlynur, who spends his days hanging out at the legendary bar Kaffibarinn. When he’s not drinking, he’s downloading porn at his mother’s place where he still lives. Talk about relatable content.

One day, his mother comes out as a lesbian and her lover, played by the fantastic actress Victoria Abril (perhaps most known for the international success of ‘¡Átame!’, directed by Pedro Almodóvar) demands that Hlynur moves out and his life is subsequently turned upside down. Oh, and did I mention that this happens over Christmas? (Thus a Christmas film, see?)

There are a few reasons you should watch this movie: First, it’s the first movie Baltasar Kormákur directed; he’s best known for huge blockbuster ‘Everest’. Next, Damon Albarn—the lead singer of Blur and Gorillaz—does the music. Fun fact, he is not only a well-known Icelandophile, but he was also a shareholder in Kaffibarinn. And finally, the story is adapted from a fantastic novel by the writer Hallgrímur Helgason. Have a nice Christmas, alcoholics and porn-addicts.


Now, here is a solid honest Christmas movie, literally named after the month December (spelt ‘Desember’ though). The movie tells the story of Jonni, who visits Iceland after being away for a while, only to discover that everything has changed—a typical movie plot, yes, but stay with me. Jonni’s dream was to record an album with his old band but his old lover, the singer of said band (acted by the fantastic singer Lay Low), is now dating an undertaker, and his family is battling with sickness and financial difficulties. When Jonni’s mother dies, his simple and careless life changes and now, he needs to fight for his love and, more simply, his life. The movie is directed by a well-known and respected Icelandic director, Hilmar Oddsson, but you probably know the lead actor, Tómas Lemarquis, from ‘Blade Runner 2049’, ‘Snowpiercer’ (directed by the Oscar award-winning director Bong Joon Hon), as well as ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’. So yes, technically a Christmas movie, but probably not a lot of jingle bells and fireplaces. Welcome to Desember.

Bergmál (Echo)

‘Bergmál’ is definitely the most unique cinematic experience on this list, and perhaps when it comes to Icelandic movies in general. Rúnar Rúnarsson, the acclaimed director of ‘Volcano’, made this movie, and we don’t really know how to describe it. The best way is perhaps that this 79-minute long epic is like a mosaic where the director tries to capture human reality as a whole. And what’s more, he does it incredibly well. Combining a documentary with scripted scenes, Rúnar creates some kind of cinematic poetic realism.

The movie’s red thread is perhaps that our need to connect to each other is incredibly important, and never as accessible as now thanks to technology, but at the same time, it somehow feels like it has never been harder. The movie is very artistic but it captures Icelandic reality like no other film. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the ears for Kjartan Sveinsson, one of the members of Sigur Rós, made the music in the film. Rúnar is, in this journalist’s mind, like an incredible fusion of Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky so if you want something demanding, and something other than ‘Elf’ with Will Ferrell, well, there you have it.

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