Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s second feature film explores the beauty and harshness of friendship
Thinking of an Icelandic movie, you most likely imagine waterfalls, volcanoes, hot springs and whatnot. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s movie ‘Berdreymi’ or ‘Beautiful Beings’ is different—it shows the rawness of Reykjavík, the greyness of its buildings, and, at the same time, the complexity of its residents. We met up with Guðmundur to find out what the movie is really about—whether it’s violence or friendship—and managed to take a sneak peek into some locations where the movie was filmed.
Once a bully, always a bully?
‘Berdreymi’ is Guðmundur’s second feature film that takes a look back to his childhood in the Reykjaík suburb Árbær. “When I was growing up, there was a very masculine, violent culture among boys,” says Guðmundur as we sit outside a pink house on Óðinsgata—the home of Balli, one of the film’s main characters. Guðmundur adds that even though the movie is fictional, it was inspired by the culture in which he grew up.
“The movie is about a group of boys who use force to deal with their problems,” he recounts. “After one of the boys takes in a bullied boy, the dynamics in the group changes.” And so does the plot: Guðmundur masterfully switches the focus from one character to another, but assures the audience that, whether the principal figure is Balli or Addi, it’s the relationship between the two we have to focus on.
The movie is set at the end of the 90s/early 2000s, but it seems like teenage violence is an issue still prevalent in Icelandic society today. Guðmundur agrees: “I think it’s more a hidden problem. When I was younger, it was more out in the open.” The cast of ‘Berdreymi’ could also relate to the issue. “You could see the social structure a little bit through the kids,” Guðmundur explains. “Kids that were from more upper-class neighbourhoods didn’t relate to it as much, but they knew about it from other schools.”
The director agrees that ‘Berdreymi’ is a coming-of-age drama but adds, “It’s a friendship drama. The friendship of the boys is at the core of the movie, both the beauty and harshness of it.”
Vesturbær—the heart of ugly
“For me, it’s a city film,” admits Guðmundur, pointing out the lack of epic nature in the background. “It makes sense for the city. I wanted to shoot it in the suburbs in the beginning, but now all the suburbs have been cleaned up, and they look quite nice. When I was young, they were still being built.” He talks about location scouting in search of the ugliest buildings in the capital: “I found out that the rawest part of Reykjavík is basically downtown, in Vesturbær.”
Finding young Icelandic actors was even harder than finding dirty buildings. “We don’t have professional actors that age,” Guðmundur explains. The team ended up casting a group of actors and trained them for a year, before shooting the film. “We started casting when the boys were 13-14. The most difficult part was trying to foresee how the boys are gonna look. You know, how much are they gonna change in a year?” says Guðmundur, adding “They change a lot. They come in as babies and then leave as kind of young men.”
“I really like working with young actors,” he says. “For me, it’s very clear that the responsibility lies with me—it’s my job to guide them and make the most out of what they can bring.” Guðmundur admits he was very happy with how things turned out: “The boys got something good out of the process,” Guðmundur says. “It’s an age where they’re quite fragile and you don’t want to have a bad influence on them. The film is about a lot of tough stuff, so it was important for us that they would grow and mature in it.”
To help guide the actors through the process, an intimacy coordinator was working on the set. “It’s a special way of preparing the actors for the scenes with nudity or sexuality—a process that kind of makes the whole thing mechanical. I think it’s something that is going to be standard on film sets,” shares Guðmundur.
The power of dreams
Much like the movie’s protagonist, Addi, whose decisions are often governed by his dreamlike visions, Guðmundur heavily relies on intuition. Without a moment of hesitation he says his inspiration comes mainly from dreams: “Dreams, and just life,” he adds “I think the easiest way to create is to work with the surroundings. No matter who you talk to, if you start breaking down a person’s life, there’s going to be a lot of interesting stories, characters and things that you can make a film about. It’s just a question of what the settings are going to be—is it gonna happen in space, or is it gonna happen in downtown Reykjavík?” With two new projects in the works—a fairy tale and TV series—it seems Guðmundur has been dreaming vividly.
‘Berdreymi’ is showing in Reykjavík cinemas over the summer.
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