Friendships In Vesturbær Are At Stake — The Reykjavik Grapevine

Friendships In Vesturbær Are At Stake

Friendships In Vesturbær Are At Stake

Published January 18, 2023

Photo by
Art Bicnick

In the age of smartphones, our most personal secrets are often stored away in apps, folders, and notes on our devices. But what would happen if all of that sensitive information were to be exposed? Director Elsa María Jakobsdóttir’s “Villibráð’” (“Wild Game”) explores that scenario, telling the story of seven friends at a dinner party in Vesturbær who decide to play a game that puts their relationships to the test. As secrets are revealed and lies are exposed, the group is forced to confront the consequences of oversharing in the digital age. Will their friendships survive the night, or will the weight of their secrets tear them apart?

An Icelandic take on the Italian story

With a background in journalism and television, Elsa María Jakobsdóttir is a well-known film director and screenwriter in Iceland. She studied at the National Film School of Denmark and has received multiple awards for her short films. 2023, will see the release of both a TV series, and “Villibráð,” her first feature film.

“Villibráð” is a remake of Paolo Genovese’s 2016 film ‘Perfect Strangers,’ a dark comedy with themes and characters that Elsa is certain will appeal well to Icelanders. “It’s based on a concept that has been remade all around the world: it’s a dinner party with seven characters. We’re using the concept of the telephone game,” says Elsa.

“Our aim with this film is to entertain the Icelandic audience,” the director affirms. Though she has won multiple awards for her short films, there was something freeing for Elsa in making her first feature-length film specifically for the local audience. “Nothing needs to be translated. You don’t have to worry that nobody outside of this culture is going to understand it.”

Bringing the movie to life

Elsa co-wrote the script with playwright Tyrfingur Tyrfingsson. “We were working on something else,” she recalls. “Then this concept came about and we decided that we should try to make an Icelandic version of this just as screenwriters and see where that would go. It went very well! We had so much fun writing it.”

Early on in the process, Elsa knew that she wanted to direct the film, even though she admits that making a remake of an Italian movie as her first feature was never the plan. “I didn’t see that coming,” says Elsa.

While the script and idea developed swiftly, production took longer. “We thought that this would all have been really quick — like a perfect COVID project, because it’s just seven characters in a house,” says Elsa. “But then, of course, as it happens with film, everything takes much longer in development. So, COVID was almost finished when we finally shot the film last year.”

Doing impossible things

“One thing I’ve learned during the last two years is how much being a film director is about trusting and collaborating,” admits Elsa. “The better that I get at trusting and collaborating, the easier things get.”

One of the key challenges Elsa faced in making the movie was playing the waiting game. “There’s a lot more waiting than I expected — waiting for finance, waiting for things to move along,” she shares. “It can be extremely frustrating, and you can feel your life wasted a little bit.”

Unlike most Icelandic films, “Villibráð” is not a co-production, so it was made with an entirely Icelandic crew. “I just loved how extremely qualified and talented people are. It was just so reassuring to have all these fantastic resources around me,” Elsa says, mentioning the crew’s skill in problem solving and overcoming every obstacle. “The only option you have is to be doing impossible things.”

“Villibráð” premiers in the Icelandic cinemas on Jan. 6. Catch it with English subtitles starting Jan. 15.

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