Breaking the Barrier: Stóra Planid (The Higher Force)


Breaking the Barrier: Stóra Planid (The Higher Force)

Review by Egill M. Arnarsson, photos and trailer courtesy of Poppoli.

After releasing a series of well-received documentaries, award-winning director Ólafur Jóhannesson moved back to Iceland to make an Icelandic feature that is almost a kung-fu film and almost a gangster film.

The film features debt-collectors, a well-known and mocked profession in Iceland, as weak thugs on the quest for a higher status in a questionable gang. Considering that the Icelandic film scene is blossoming at the same time that organized crime in Iceland is on the rise, Stóra Planid’s timing is perfect. The film’s one of two taglines, “Almost a Gangster Film”, is sarcastically suitable because, until recently, there have been no real Icelandic gangsters.

Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon, whose star is shining brightly these days, plays the lead as Davíd in Stóra Planid, in Iceland’s latest and hottest feature. Sigfússon only recently launched his career in show business as a comedian and a radio host. He won the stand-up competition “Iceland’s Funniest Person” and got a spot in a silly TV show on a small network.

Jóhann Pétur Sigfússon and Eggert Thorleifsson in their roles in Stóra Planid.

With his role in TV’s Naeturvaktin (2007) Sigfússon finally earned respect as an actor, becoming one of Iceland’s biggest names in the country’s film industry. However, his roles have always been similar, and in fact, some might say that he plays the same character over and over again. His role as Davíd is no different.

Davíd is a repressed debt-collector whose only source of reassurance, wisdom and comfort is an old Chinese philosophy video called “The Higher Force”. Also, he is an amateur poet with a tragic past who practices martial arts in his underwear. This is one of the best fictional characters seen on the Icelandic big screen in a long time and could only be portrayed by Sigfússon. But even though Sigfússon did a great job, the Icelandic nation yearns to know if awkward and repressed characters are the only thing he is capable of acting.

Michael Imperioli and Sigfússon in Stóra Planid.

Stóra Planid thrives on funny, exaggerated characters, their back-stories and their contributions to the storyline. A truckload of famous actors was cast for this film, both native and international including Eggert Thorleifsson (Stella í Frambodi (2002), Med Allt á Hreinu (1982)) and Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) as highlights.

Thorleifsson delivers his role with great professionalism while Imperioli’s well-known face and accent-free English did not cast a shadow on the others’ performances. Benedikt Erlingsson (Fóstbraedur) and Stefan C. Schaefer’s characters were surprisingly well-written and added hilarious details (i.e. Erlingsson’s horse whip and boat-modeling interest) to a number of scenes.

Stefan C. Schaefer’s and Benedikt Erlingsson's characters.

The oddest thing about the actors in Stóra Planid is that both Ingvar E. Sigurdsson (Jar City, 2006) and Hilmir Snaer Gudnasson (White Night Wedding, 2007), Iceland’s top male actors, played the most boring and unoriginal parts of the film and were far from being the highlights. As for the smaller parts, Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir (Stelpurnar, White Night Wedding, 2007) nailed the part of Davíd’s disloyal girlfriend.

The screenplay by director Jóhannesson and Ómar Örn Hauksson was mostly well-written, but a bit vague on key plots in the storyline. Also, it was missing a climax and highlights causing it to be a bit flat. However, it challenges Icelandic script writing and demands more diversity from locally-produced films in the future. An example of that is an awkward, unexpected sex scene without the traditional raw nudity and passionate moans, never before seen in an Icelandic film.

Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir and Sigfússon in Stóra Planid.

Rune Kippervik’s cinematography overdosed on heavy depth-of-field usage, which was a huge discomfort to the eye. A few shots seemed experimental and some lower-lit scenes were a bit grainy. The editing, however, often had good timing which compensated a little for some of the most annoying shots.

The music was entertaining and unusual for an Icelandic film, which of course is a good thing. The film also included the best car-hit ever seen in an Icelandic film (even though it was only about a second long) and “The Higher Force” video was a nice input to the story. Stóra Planid is so uncharacteristically Icelandic that people might forget about its origin – a highly positive aspect.

Stóra Planid is an essential building block to the growing Icelandic film industry, mainly because of its international concept not necessarily being in respective of Icelandic situations and locations. The film breaks a huge chunk of the barrier between international and Icelandic filmmaking and pushes the limit of domestic film standards and creativity.

Stóra Planid is currently playing in cinemas in Iceland and will be reseased on DVD with English subtitles next fall. Click here to watch the trailer.

EMA – [email protected]

Egill M. Arnarsson graduated with distinction from the Fine Arts Department of the Vocational School in Akureyri (VMA) in 2004. In 2005, he studied Film and Television at the University of Wales and is now enrolled to the Reykjavík School of Multimedia from which he will graduate in spring 2008. He is an amateur filmmaker and graphic designer; click here for Arnarsson’s online portfolio.

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