Children of Nature: Iceland’s Nominee for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar

Children of Nature, Iceland’s nominee for this year’s best foreign-language picture Oscar may not be as inventive as “Toto the Hero,” the great Belgian film that, for some reason, failed to receive nomination.

But it is a perfectly respectable film, from a country not exactly known for its cinema. The movie, which was shown in Montreal and other film festivals, should put its 37-year-old director, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, who has made some docus and one feature (“White Whales”) on the international map.

The movie tells the story of an elderly farmer (Gisli Halldorsson) from north Iceland, who leaves his country house and moves in with his daughter’s family in the capital. As soon as he arrives in the suburban neighborhood, composed of uniformly white high-rising buildings, he gets the idea that he is not welcome. There is generation gap–his granddaughter plays her music loud and resents that he has taken over her room and placed his old clock on the wall that featured posters of her favorite rock stars. Before long, his daughter puts him in a home where he will be more “comfortable.”

The movie captures effectively captures the everyday life at an old-folks home. The old man’s roommate, an eccentric preoccupied with sex, boasts about having a sweetheart on every floor; he says that even the nurses don’t mind a fling here and there. The itinerary for the elderly is busy–collective eating, singing, dancing, etc. But there is a pervasive aura of sadness and a sense of wasted time, time that could be much more enjoyably spent in the outdoors, in nature (thus the title).

At the home, the old man meets by chance his childhood sweetheart (Sigridur Hagalin), now aged and rejected like himself. Together, they decide to revisit the place where they had spent their childhood, before their families moved away. They buy themselves new white sneakers, steal a jeep, and escape from the oppressive home–the police in hot pursuit. The second, and better, part of Children of Nature is a tale of love on the run, focusing on the romantic adventures of two elderly people, who realize that this may be their last chance of living life to its fullest.

An intimate movie, Children of Nature provides a close look at its two central characters. The sparse screenplay, co-written by Fridriksson and Einar Mar Gudmundsson, does not attempt to explain or understand the couple’s behavior. The whole movie, particularly its nature scenes, has the mysterious, hallucinatory quality of a dream. The movie takes its time in establishing its context–the pace is slow, but never boring.

Fridriksson’s visual strategy consists of long shots of Iceland’s remote Hornstrandir coast. There are very few close-ups of the two leads, but because they are used sparingly, each one is effective. For long stretches of time, the movie is completely silent. Indeed, not one word is uttered in the film’s first sequence, in which the old man shoots his ailing dog, burns his belongings, and prepares for his departure. Children of Nature relies heavily on its austere visual imagery and evocative music. Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson deservedly won the l991 European Film Composer Award for his haunting score.

Fridriksson presents a fresher, different view of old age than the one prevalent in most American movies. His matter-of-fact portrait, clearly seen through the prism of a young man, is full of subtle nuances, but devoid of any melodrama or sentimentality. The ending of this perfectly realized film is genuinely surprising, though most appropriate to the tale’s mischievous, somehow strange, mood.

The acting of Halldorsson and Hagalin, who have won a number of awards, is highly creditable; they don’t look like actors. Bruno Ganz, the noted German actor, lends his charismatic presence to the small role of the “angel.” The title of this Icelandic import may be literal, but the movie itself, an original road comedy, is not.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Foreign Lnaguage Film

Oscar Context:

The Oscar winner was the Italian entry, “Mediterraneo.”