Yesterday I went to see Baltasar Kormákur’s ‘Djúpið’ (“The Deep”), an exceptionally well made docudrama based on the true story of a burly fisherman and his miraculous six-hour swim to Heimaey island from a sinking ship in the winter of 1984. The event cost four men their lives, and Icelanders who remember the incident are split in their opinion about this tragic yet incredible story being made into a film.
Icelandic filmmakers have been telling true stories about bad stuff in the past for decades. Most of them took place hundreds of years ago so nobody really cares about how historically accurate they are, as long as they’re entertaining or artistically significant. In comparison to those medieval stories, Baltasar Kormákur’s film deals with fairly recent events. The real-life fisherman portrayed in the movie (Guðlaugur Friðþórsson) is still alive and well, now in his early 50s. On top of that, he’s made known that he is disgruntled about the making of the film.
He has stated his opinion in the media and probably has many reasons for feeling the way he does. The public, however, isn’t emotionally involved with the tragedy, apart from reading about it in newspapers some 26 years ago. I sense that those who are opposed to the project are so either out of respect for Guðlaugur or due to the fact that we’re not really used to watching our recent nightmares on the silver screen.
But the Icelandic film industry is constantly growing, and more films are getting made each year. I’m not going to make the dumb argument that screenwriters are facing a “shortage” of stories as a result, but different genres of film are finally being explored and the docudrama is just one of those genres. Of course somebody would want to make a film about what Guðlaugur went through.
And “Djúpið” is a very good film. It’s not entirely flawless, but the subject matter is treated with utmost respect and the visuals are stunning. I’m convinced that the film will pave the way for other magnificent true stories we’d all like to see as films. Icelanders are fascinated by the past, and the horror stories are no exception. Can anybody honestly say they didn’t like “Sönn íslensk sakamál” (an Icelandic true-crime show that ran in the early ‘00s)?
However, while Baltasar Kormákur is raising the bar in an already established genre, others genres are in their infant stage. A few weeks ago Reynir Lyngdal’s second feature film, ‘Frost’ (“Frost”), was premiered. Despite having received mixed-to-negative reviews, the film itself is a small landmark in Icelandic film history, since it is “our” first attempt in the sci-fi thriller genre. Next month we also get an official grand opening of the “low budget ass-kicking martial arts” genre, when first time director Ingó Ingólfs premieres his long awaited Van Damme-esque action movie ‘Blóðhefnd’ (“Blood Vengeance”).
For the last five years a lot of brave Icelandic filmmakers have been taking a lot of chances. Although the resulting films have been varying in quality, the industry will benefit artistically from those chances, and already has.
What excites me the most is the opportunity to witness the birth of so many new genres in Icelandic cinema. On top of that, every month there seems to be a new, locally made film for us to enjoy. Or hate. Now we get a handful of thrillers each year, a few comedies, an animated film, a slasher film, a 3D adventure film, a bunch of interesting documentaries, and of course a few more “serious” films from the major players, just like the ones we all grew up on.
Variety is the key to success and if you won’t like ‘Djúpið,’ maybe you’ll love next month’s ‘Blóðhefnd.’