Noi Albinoi, an Icelandic film, has that Northern thing going on, that sense of cosmic dislocation that will be familiar to anyone that’s ever seen an Aki Kaurismaki film, or maybe one by that honorary Scandinavian, Jim Jarmusch.
It has all the hallmarks of the frozen genre: the deadpan humor, the patient depictions of people doing nothing particularly interesting, the location in a place where time has slowed to a crawl and everyone goes about their business with the moroseness of a race trapped in an endless winter.
Noi (pronounced No-ee) is the protagonist, a tall, thin and completely bald 17-year-old who floats through life with bemused detachment. Noi is a very bright kid, so much so that school bores him to death and he’s constantly on the verge of being expelled for sleeping in class when he bothers to show up. He lives with his grandmother, who seems blissfully senile — she wakes him in the morning by firing a shotgun out the window — and his alcoholic father, an Elvis aficionado who gets his kicks singing “In The Ghetto” at the local karaoke bar. More quirky colorfulness is supplied by a cranky bookshop owner who wears a “New York Fucking City” T-shirt and whose seemingly normal daughter becomes the object of Noi’s affections.
The movie moves along in an anecdotal manner. Noi, helping his father prepare some disgusting meat dish, spills a huge soup pan of blood on his dad and grandmother. He convinces a friend to take a tape recorder to class so he won’t have to attend. He gets a job in a cemetery, helping to answer the question, “How do you dig a grave in a place where the ground is always frozen?”
The laconic Noi (an excellent performance by Tómas Lemarquis, who gives the character much unexpected charm) is finally moved to action when he decides that he and his girlfriend need to escape this wintry limbo, but this leads nowhere and is capped by a deus ex machina ending, in which an unexpected miracle saves the day in a tragedy at odds with the generally low-key mood of the rest of the film.
On the other hand, the ending could be seen as a more aggressive statement of the film’s theme that life is an aimless trek and then you die. If its Northern mixture of whimsy and bleakness is familiar, the film is still a prime example of a genre whose credo could be: Abandon all hope, but don’t sweat it.
In Icelandic with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) Friday and Saturday, July 23-24, at 7 and 9:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, July 25, at 4 and 7 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].