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Review by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
The first thing that came to mind after watching director Rúnar Rúnarsson’s first full-length feature film, award-winning drama Volcano (Eldfjall), was how very Icelandic it was.
Not because of the volcano—contrary to what one might think when hearing the title, it’s not a natural catastrophe film—but because of Hannes, the main character, brilliantly portrayed by Theódór Júlíusson.
Hannes is the embodiment of the older generation of Icelandic men, the silent farmers and fishermen who keep all their emotions tightly wrapped up in a knot inside them and never discuss their feelings.
Instead they express their unhappiness by acting coolly towards their families, emitting authority at their workplaces and would rather end their lives than have anyone discover that they have a soft spot.
This is all part of the ‘boys don’t cry, don’t act like a girl’ kind of attitude they were raised with.
The only direct connection with a volcano is the opening scene of the 1973 eruption on Heimaey in Vestmannaeyjar from where Hannes and his wife Anna had to escape with their young children.
Hannes and Anna made a home for themselves in Reykjavík and although both of them would have liked to move back to Heimaey, Hannes decided their children would have more opportunities in the capital.
Therefore, Hannes had to give up his life as a fisherman and work as a janitor, which, although never spelled out, seems to be the source of his unhappiness.
However, working still gave his life some meaning and upon retiring, Hannes struggles with finding a purpose in life.
Hannes has a small boat and when out on the open ocean, fishing, one can sense that he is free, in his element, while inside his house, he seems to be trapped.
Hannes’ grown children despise the man their father has become and how he treats their mother and only after overhearing them talking about him does he think about changing his ways.
It’s heartwarming to see how the relationship between Hannes and Anna is rekindled but just as heartbreaking to see how short-lived that period turns out to be when Anna suddenly falls ill.
Against the wish of his children, Hannes decides to care for Anna at home, and at this point the storyline started to remind me of that of Michael Haneke’s Oscar-winning Amour.
Volcano is primarily the story of Hannes, his relationship with his family and the development of his character.
I’ve already praised the performance of Theódór but Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir, who plays Anna, is equally outstanding in her role.
Volcano premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. The movie won Best Film at the 2012 Eddas, the Icelandic Film and Television Award, Rúnar was awarded as Best Director, Theódór as Best Actor and Margrét as Best Actress.