English Title: Volcano
Original Title: Eldfjall
Country: Iceland, Denmark
Director/Writer: Rúnar Rúnarsson
Music: Kjartan Sveinsson
Cinematography: Sophia Olsson
Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir
Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir
Katla M. Thorgeirsdóttir
Ágúst Örn B. Wigum
Watching director Rúnar Rúnarsson’s feature debut now cannot circumvent this epithet “the Icelandic version of AMOUR (2012)”, only VOLCANO came one year earlier. Compared to AMOUR, it does’t match the former’s metaphorical conceit, but as a debut, Rúnarsson adeptly chronicles this slow-burner with unadorned humanism and uncompromising dedication.
Our protagonist Hannes (Júlíusson), is introduced by his retirement party and begins to adopt his new life pattern with his wife Anna (Jóhannsdóttir), but his withdrawn personality and the deficit in communicating with his two children, Ari (Bachmann) and Telma (Gunnarsdóttir), creates a family gap, Ari and Telma can never understand why their mother marries a man who has never been good to her. Yes, there are only two people knows the truth of their marriage.
After a leakage in Hannes’ tiny boat, and a make-up sex which is quite audacious for two elderly actors and the mastermind behind it, the unexpected happens, Anna has a stroke but survives, against the will of Ari and Telma, Hannes decides to take care of her at home, then we journey through Hannes’ day-to-day effort of attending to Anna, meanwhile I was thinking please don’t let it be a reenactment of AMOUR, please don’t! Yet eventually a tough decision must be made, but unlike Trintignant and Riva’s bourgeois harmony, Hannes and Anna’s marriage is more or less on the rocks, which prompts Hannes’ behaviour to look like a redemption for all those years of negligence, a remorseful realisation of not cherishing the beloved one until time is running out. Rúnarsson has no qualm of showing audience the cruelty but he also refuses to imprint his personal judgement on it, arguably, one can interpret Anna’s whimpering as her final request, and Hannes merely executes it despite of all the unwillingness.
Leading actor Theodór Júlíusson’s performance is quietly powerful, incredibly engaging in betraying Hannes’ flux of mind under the introverted surface, and he is consummately believable to embody a lifelike character besides performing well in several pathos-rendering scenes. Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir, although her role is truncated to a vegetable halfway through apart from her unvarying moaning, is equally daring and admirable, for Anna, there is no clear indication of her condition’s deterioration, so she is not so lucky as Riva in AMOUR.
The volcano is presented in the opening sequences with a sublime aria and from what I glean in the film, it signals as an abrupt changeover in one’s life, it is the volcano forced Hannes and Anna to leave their hometown for relocation, which forever altered their trajectory, so is Anna’s stroke, it will change the family eventually, it cannot be stopped. In the end, through a breathtaking shots of Iceland’s unique terrain and sea view, Rúnarsson chooses to let nature speak, to impress, to marvel and to purify, while Hannes and his grandson are sailing on the muted sea, conveys the sense of succession, like the film per se, the spirit is also silent but tenacious.