Icelandic director Dagur Kári returns to his native tongue with his fourth feature film Virgin Mountain. Never taking the easy route, the narrative is focused on circumventing presumptions and taking realistic, yet unexpected, corners. It is a film brimming with hope, whilst never shirking from the dark forces that reside in life.
The film is a delicate and humane portrait of a man who has many things stacked against him. Fúsi (Gunnar Jónsson) is overweight, 42, and still living with his mother. He has created a safe, unchanging and extremely limited world for himself, working as a baggage handler at the airport during the day and recreating the battle of El Alamein with the help of his only friend, Rolf (Arnar Jonsson), during the evening.
The routine changes when he is pressured by his mother and her boyfriend to explore new social avenues. Fúsi grudgingly agrees to attend line-dancing classes, where he meets Sjöfn (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir), an eccentric garbage worker with fantasies of running her own flower shop. Sjöfn soon takes a liking to her dance partner, slowly bringing him out of his comfort shell with the life-changing promise of sex and romance. But of course, love is never that smooth and beneath her bubbly surface Sjöfn proves to be almost as damaged as Fusi. To his credit, Kári does not give his rom-com a conventional happy ending, instead contriving a cautiously upbeat pay-off that feels like a humane compromise.
The film works so well with Jónsson in the leading position. Known as a TV comedian in Iceland, he is an unlikely leading man but at the same time extremely watchable. His hangdog features and weary voice conveying both inner torment and sly humour.
Overall, Virgin Mountain steers clear of darkness, depth and psychological complexity. While at times the film is rather predictable, the story is carefully guided by the films wintery setting and acting ability of its lead characters. A lightweight portrait of a potentially heavy subject, Kári has drafted a fully rounded picture shorn of the neat, smooth finishes of Hollywood-esque artifice. While this may be typical of Scandinavian cinema, this film deserves a broad audience and a wide distribution, and its various festival awards are a clear indication of this films success.
Virgin Mountain won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Best Screenplay prize at Tribeca, while Gunnar Jónsson was named Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film. The film also won the Audience Award at CPH:PIX