Bjarnfreðarson (Director: Ragnar Bragason): Based on a popular Icelandic television show, Bjarnfreðarson topped the domestic box office for several weeks last Christmastime, besting even James Cameron’s Avatar. Although I suspect that familiarity with some of the TV show’s plotlines would enrich the experience, the film works quite well as a standalone story, and if anything, it’s made me eager to seek out the rest of the series.
We first meet Georg Bjarnfreðarson (Jón Gnarr, who co-wrote the script with Bragason) as he’s being granted parole from prison. Despite his protests that he never applied, he’s forced out and we soon understand why. Georg is a tyrant, imposing his own will on everyone and everything around him. Flashbacks show us the reasons. The son of a very unique single mother, Georg was raised as a vegetarian feminist communist and was expected to be a “great man.” Instead, his misadventures landed him in the slammer. Upon his release, his mother refuses to see him, so he crashes with Daniel, with whom he spent time in prison.
The nerdy Daniel is not someone you’d expect to have a criminal record, but apparently he got caught up in one of Georg’s schemes and did some time. Now, he’s about to graduate from medical school. At least, that’s what his wife and parents think. Secretly, he’s been studying art instead. Also living with them is Olafur, another prison buddy. He’s a 40-year-old who thinks he’s still 20, and when he loses his job as a delivery driver, an amazing piece of luck leads him to his true calling as a radio DJ.
Watching these three characters interact, it’s no wonder that they’ve featured in an entire series. What the film does, though, is to probe the oddball Georg’s backstory, and in the process, make us care about him. As we see him being picked on throughout his childhood, we realize that he’s never known a normal life or normal relationships. His desire to bond with the goofy Oli leads to some hilarity, but in the end, these misfits really do need each other.
Though this reminded me in parts of Canada’s own Trailer Park Boys, there was something deeper at work here. Although guilty of a few instances of poor taste (including giving Daniel a mentally-challenged brother-in-law and a father reduced to mumbling incoherently after a stroke), the film does convey a real sense of outsiders trying to make a new beginning, of trying to escape the personas that have been forced upon them. That the film is able to achieve this while also providing plentiful laughs is a credit to the filmmakers.
In any case, it has me prepared to spend large sums of money to watch the rest of the story. And shipping DVDs from Iceland isn’t cheap, you know.