Review by Egill M. Arnarsson, photos and trailer courtesy of Zik Zak.
In Back Soon (Icelandic title: Skrapp út) writer-director Sólveig Anspach partners up with actress and poet Didda Jónsdóttir once more after a good run with Icelandic drama Stormy Weather (2006). This time a simple story about a homely drug dealer and poet called Anna is brought to life.
Back Soon is a heartfelt comedy mostly set in and around Reykjavík and relies heavily on a simplistic storyline and a few interesting characters. However, judging by the look and feel of the film’s poster, the audience could be about to enjoy a mass-produced popcorn movie, which somehow looks more Scandinavian than Icelandic.
There is almost nothing original about this film. A story about a middle-aged female drug dealer is hardly a creative subject for a film anymore; it has already been covered in British comedy Saving Grace (2000) and American TV series Weeds (2005). However, Back Soon keeps viewers interested by adding surreal elements almost never seen in an Icelandic film before, like when Anna reaches up and grabs a guitar out thin air, humming a tune.
The script, written by Anspach herself and Jean-Luc Gaget, is brilliantly sprinkled with tasteful surrealism and absurd twists. At one point a cell phone stuck inside a goose suddenly starts to ring. Some great dialogues and monologues can be found, for example when Anna’s younger brother tries to describe the dangers of smoking based on his family’s experience. But the main plot and sub-stories do not come across clearly enough.
Didda Jónsdóttir seems to make little effort in actually acting her part. It rather seems that Anna, the film’s main character, is Jónsdóttir herself. This is far from being a bad thing and should happen more often in Icelandic cinema. The character is both believable and realistic but whenever Anna curses, the believability is suddenly thrown out the window. That is the only thing about her acting that is not sincere.
A few famous personalities from the Icelandic entertainment industry are cast as Anna’s customers, including rocker Krummi and rapper Erpur Eyvindarsson. Krummi doesn’t do anything but giggle and Eyvindarson’s scenes should all be cut by one minute. His stereotypical character, some kind of a jolly gangster, becomes tiring after his first appearance.
One of Iceland’s favorite actors, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson (The Higher Force (2008); Angels of the Universe (2000)) does not get a change to shine, and sadly, neither does Jörundur Ragnarsson (Naeturvaktin (2007); Vedramót (2007)) who plays Anna’s younger, more down-to-earth brother.
Three foreign side characters are introduced in the beginning of the film. Foreign characters in Icelandic films are most often lost, simple, kind and naive, and find Icelandic traditions rather strange and uncomfortable. The same path is taken with Back Soon. Two of the foreign characters simply look dumb rather than anything else.
Still, the devout Christian Irish woman, the French student who desperately tries to write a thesis about female poets and the American runaway father are, apart from Anna, the most interesting characters in the movie.
The film looks too old-fashioned to match its contemporary story. A heavy contrast and hues of browns and greens do not make up for rough, badly-timed editing and over-simplistic cinematography. The look comes close to a homemade documentary at times, which is not at all where the Icelandic film industry is heading.
Also, the film digs up all the pointless clichés, which have dominated Icelandic cinema for a long time. The run-down truck, bad and pointless dirty poetry, the long and wide road shots—obviously taken from a plane—and the laughably dramatic portrayal of Icelandic nature are all in there.
Although the film’s title sequence is entertaining and original compared to other Icelandic films, the film’s overall look, along with some awful typical oversaturated trail effects—for example during the French student’s accidental drug-tripping when everything goes blurry—is simply disappointing.
To make things worse, the film’s dull reggae score is about the only thing played during the entire length of the film, definitely making some eyes roll towards the end.
The film’s joyful bits of surrealism and unexpected tweaks is about the only thing keeping the viewers entertained, and because of it the movie rises above the lame Iceland-pitching, uninteresting characters and the amateur look.
The overall warmth of the movie somehow reaches the audience and the kind preaching of the shabby-looking anti-hero is kept to a minimum. Back Soon is a good candidate for a lazy evening at home and is sure to create a light mood and a few laughs.
Back Soon is currently playing in cinemas in Iceland and the film will possibly be shown with English subtitles in Regnboginn in late September. It is scheduled to be released on DVD in 2009. Click here to watch the trailer.
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Egill M. Arnarsson is a multimedia designer from The School of Multimedia in Reykjavík. He graduated with distinction from the Fine Arts Department of the Vocational School in Akureyri (VMA) in 2004 and in 2005 he studied Film and Television at the University of Wales. He is an amateur filmmaker and graphic designer currently working as a game designer.