From Iceland — The Human State Is Epic: “Reply To A Letter From Helga,” is now a feature film

The Human State Is Epic: “Reply To A Letter From Helga,” is now a feature film

Published September 5, 2022

Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Elín Guðmundsdóttir

“Reply To A Letter From Helga” (Svar við bréfi Helgu) has a special spot in the hearts of Icelanders. Published in 2010, the novel is just 106 pages long, but it seems to capture the entire human experience of love and regret through an explosive narrative about farmers in the notoriously isolated Strandir area sometime around the Second World War.

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The story begins with a farmer, Bjarni, replying to Helga’s letter, decades too late and trying to express his regrets to his former lover. The novel is brilliantly written by Bergsveinn Birgisson, a doctor in nordic studies, who has a unique way of combining literature and research, as showcased in another of his works, the brilliant historic novel “The Black Viking.”

Now, “Reply To A Letter From Helga” has been filmed and is bound to be one of the most exciting cinematic events in Iceland this year.

“This story is about how emotions are epic,” says Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir, the filmmaker who brought this incredible story to life. This is Ása Helga’s second feature film, following her critically-acclaimed debut “The Swan,” which was based on Guðbergur Bergsson’s coming-of-age story about a young girl finding herself in the Icelandic countryside.

Adapting “A Reply to Helga’s Letter,” for the screen takes courage, considering how strong a connection Icelanders have with the novel.

“The beauty about this story, is that everyone who has read it feels like they own it in some ways,” says Ása Helga.

Worried book lovers can rest easy, though. Bergsveinn himself collaborated on the screenplay, along with Ása Helga and Ottó Geir Borg. The story they love is in capable hands. Ása Helga says that the story got her attention as a possible film a few years ago. “When I read it first, way before I thought it would result in a film, I immediately felt a connection with the story. It’s unique for its broad strokes of feelings as well as its unique settings in the most rural place in Iceland,” Ása Helga explains. “It’s about epic feelings, and just how the human state can be so immense.”

“The beauty about this story, is that everyone who has read it feels like they own it in some ways.”

The film is also making waves thanks to its all-star cast. Hera Hilmarsdóttir plays Helga after a string of international successes in the film “Mortal Engine” and on AppleTV’s “See”, starring Jason Momoa. Bjarni is brought to life by Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson who, like Hera, made a name for himself internationally, honing his craft at Julliard, and Oxford University, while earning a reputation as one of Iceland’s best film actors. Ása Helga says that it was a privilege to work with them, adding that they are emotionally brave actors.

“They are capable and ready to dwell in the grey area of feelings, and there was complete trust between us,” she says.

The movie premieres on September 2nd. It will be subtitled in English at Bíó Paradís.

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