Surreal, dreamy and obscure, Autumn Lights is an American-Icelandic-French mystery thriller set in the remote Icelandic landscape as an outsider is forced into a strange world that surrounds jealousy, obsession and loneliness. Heavily inspired by the work of Ingmar Bergman, Autumn Lights sets out to achieve a similar look, creating a heavily stylised chamber drama that American director Angad Aulakh has taken from various art, photography and film influences.

The story follows David (Guy Kent), an American photographer adrift in a remote Icelandic community. After discovering a deserted crime scene, David is implicated in a local investigation and forced to remain in the area for longer than expected. It is during his time that he crosses paths with Marie, a beautiful and intriguing Italian woman, and her Icelandic husband, Johann. They live in a luxurious contemporary mansion in the middle of nowhere, and hold expensive dinner parties with their equally upper-class friends from Reykjavík, which they mention is around two hours away. David becomes fascinated with this couple and their rather strange lifestyle, and as this fascination intensifies, he slowly finds himself entangled in their mysterious lives.

Autumn Lights is a very beautiful film. The Icelandic landscape becomes a major character as it traps this group of people between the mountains and forces them to confront and obsess over one another, as there is quite literally no one else there. The world David finds himself in is certainly strange, and this is mostly thanks to the world Aulakh and Kent create.

Where Autumn Lights struggles is in the narrative. The crime scene David discovers is sloppily addressed, and it’s seldom mentioned after he is told he has to remain in Iceland. But more importantly, it is his relationship with Marie that forms the majority of the films narrative. The film is trying to show an outsider trapped in a strange world, but David’s character is too similar to the Europeans he finds himself surrounded by in order to be effective. He too is dreamy, surreal, and in a way European himself. For a one-hundred-minute film the narrative is too limited, and instead we spend most of those minutes watching the very slow development of David and Marie’s relationship. Any side story that could have an effective influence on the narrative is only ever mentioned in brief.

Overall, Autumn Lights is a surreal and truly bizarre film of an American in Iceland, both in terms of narrative and of film theory. Putting the logic to the screen, Aulakh has set out to make a film heavily inspired by the auteurs he admires, and while Autumn Lights is beautifully surreal, dreamy and obscure, the narrative will struggle to keep the attention of audiences.

CategoriesIssue 16 Reviews
Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.