Opens Fri July 2
Teen angst films are rarely rendered in a way that make them vital cinema. Most films in the genre have a tendency to devolve into catty silly things that play down to the intelligence of the audience it most wants to reach. Nói Albinói is one of the rarities, treating its subjects with respect and compassion while allowing the space for a compelling and nuanced narrative to emerge.
Living in a desolate snowbound town somewhere on the coast of Iceland, Noi (Tómas Lemarquis), the angsty 17-year-old protagonist, seems to carry the weight of the white, craggy mountains that loom over his back. The town, which looks poised to be swallowed by the sea or eaten by the mountain, is a prison to Noi, who is annoyed by its isolation, and the impossibility of anonymity in a country where everyone is a cousin. He refuses to attend high school with any regularity, drinks to distraction with his alcoholic father, yet shows touching tenderness towards his quirkily silent grandmother.
Enter Iris (El,n Hansdóttir), another troubled teen who has come home to mellow out after wild times in the city. Iris acts as a sort of human speed bump, making Noi slow down long enough to desire something tangible. With persistence, Noi works his way into her life. Their love is an awkward and funny affair. A memorable scene has them breaking into a museum to spend time together; there is literally nowhere else to go, and they are reduced to vandalism to create a space for themselves. As they tour the empty museum, Noi kisses Iris on the cheek. It's a simple, sweet shock that made my stomach jump a little.
The film is written and directed by 31-year-old Dagur Kári, who successfully blends the beautiful bleakness of Harmony Korine with the accessible absurdity of Todd Solondz. He works furiously, yet invisibly, to keep the viewer covered under the snowy oppression of teen Iceland. Complete with filtered sodium light and wind whipped silence, a cold spell is cast.