The place is Iceland and the time is nearing the end of the year, when the snowy weather comes in, the days are shorter and the population look forward to Christmas. Here we will drop in on a selection of the Icelanders as they spend their time together with their families or friends, or at work with their colleagues, as the festive holidays move towards New Year's Day. Some will have been looking forward to this, for others it's more of a chore, but if there is one thing you can guarantee, it is that no one Christmas will be the same for every one person as it is for another, as anyone's experience is different. Some of this will be happy and cheery, some of it tragic and sad, plenty of it will simply be mundane, but it is all Iceland, all the time.
Director Runar Runarsson provided a lot of incident, no matter how small, for this slice of life set of vignettes about his homeland in the North Atlantic, though he risked banality by inventing mini-dramas that stressed the everyday rather than anything very much that represented a major upheaval in his briefly glimpsed characters' lives. Certainly, some of those vignettes would have a heavy impact on some of them, but the emphasis was the inexorable progress of time and how it rendered even the most significant of incidents in your existence more insignificant with its passing thanks to everyone else experiencing their own incidents. While some of what we witnessed was going to have a strong impact on those people, time marched on.
To the extent that in a hundred years, almost all of this would be forgotten or relegated to a general impression of events in the country, the specifics lost to the winds and snow. Who would care about a gran trying on a virtual reality headset then, or indeed an hour after it had happened? It would be an amusing anecdote should it be remembered by those who were there, but by and by it would not matter a jot, and indeed barely mattered a jot seconds after it was over, such was its place in the great scheme of things. The most significant happening we saw was near the very end of the film, where a mother was seen genuinely giving birth on camera: this was the beginning of someone’s life, yet amidst the other people we have seen, they were simply yet another Icelander, and chances are they would make little difference - there was even a dog, terrified by New Year fireworks, so it was not all humanity we were shown.
If this is sounding downbeat and futile as an experiment in drama-documentary, it kind of was and kind of wasn't, for the capture of these minutes of experience was made, for the space they inhabited in the film, important. You find yourself caring for more of these folks than you ever anticipated at the beginning, where a car is cleaned in a car wash under the opening credits; shortly after, a visiting American sportsman is phoning his mother who he obviously misses, and suddenly we are engaged with this stranger who we will never see again in any other context. This was the pattern Runarsson employed, so we are invested in the grandfather who watches the big house he danced in with the love of his life go up in spectacular flames, or the young teen who is shown up at her divorced dad's new home by her stepsister's better piano playing, or the victim of bullying who can't get away fast enough from the woman who has plucked up the courage to apologise to her from the heart, or the unseen little boy who has called a helpline now his father is attacking his mother, and so on. But some of this raised a laugh, other parts a shrug, and always that relentless feeling of life going ever onward until it stops for us all.
[Click here to watch on MUBI.]