Review by Júlíana Björnsdóttir.
Our Own Oslo (Okkar eigin Osló) is a modern day love story about a complicated start of a new relationship.
Dating in Iceland is a jungle and a half. Our Own Oslo deals with the complicated beginning of a relationship between Haraldur and Vilborg, a solitary divorcee and a single mother to a stubborn son on the verge of adolescence.
Haraldur is a gentle-natured man in his late thirties or early forties and settled in his ways. He is an engineer who works for one of Iceland’s most successful companies, Marel, and during a business trip to Oslo meets Vilborg.
Vilborg is in Oslo with her colleague and friend, and Haraldur, like a knight in shining armor, helps Vilborg with her intoxicated friend.
Haraldur and Vilborg enjoy a beautiful summer night together in Oslo, and upon return to Reykjavík, try to continue the romance over an early breakfast. A simple breakfast date turns into an awkwardly intimate introduction for Haraldur to Vilborg’s vices, and a trip to the Þingvellir summer cottage community on the shores of Lake Þingvallavatn.
The simple story is based on the Icelandic reality, in particular the peculiar family fusion so predominant in our society. In Iceland, single parenthood is no big deal and many families today are a fusion of past and present relationships. Both partners often bring a child, or two, into a new relationship and often, another life is conceived to unify the new family unit.
Our Own Oslo captures the mood of new love and the awkward early stages. The fast-paced introduction to the characters and their private lives is hilarious but not without a dose of realism.
Reality infused with a bit of craziness is what makes this film stick out. It’s a story so many Icelanders can relate to on a personal level, with the mild exaggeration. The film provides an insight into an invisible side of Icelandic culture. Upon a simple visit to Iceland, most travelers see a family-oriented society where liberal views generally prevail.
What they don’t see is the personal history of each and every couple. Especially mature couples in their thirties or older. For some couples, the group of children traveling with them may be in part a biological product of a previous relationship. As happy and content they may seem, it is logical to presume the beginning of life together for such a couple was a little more complicated than for a couple without such baggage.
The personal baggage of Vilborg and Haraldur is the subject of Our Own Oslo.
For a single mom to start a relationship with a new man is difficult. In the film, Haraldur is introduced to Vilborg’s stubborn son and her inappropriate ex-partner and father to her son.
Her new life and old life in one room becomes a near-catastrophic event. For the viewer it is almost painful to watch the rising conflict and the explosion to which it leads. But despite her troubles and unresolved past, she is genuinely delightful and as a viewer, I couldn’t help but hope she would find the happiness she so deserves even though she may feel otherwise.
Vilborg is not the only one with baggage. Haraldur too is burdened by his solitary lifestyle and a past he’s yet to come to terms with.
For Haraldur, the internal conflict is the life and death of his father, his lack of assertiveness, and his insecurities with women. A divorcee whose marriage ended in infidelity, he carefully pursues the woman he’s just met.
He is the epitome of the good guy. His reserved nature, patience, kindness and strong sense of loyalty are the very qualities that make him so endearing to the viewer. It’s impossible not to root for him in his pursuit of a new life.
The people in his old life are his mother, younger sister, and Havel, the Swedish “uncle” who lives in the shadow of Haraldur’s late dad. Haraldur is the glue that holds them together.
The cast in the film belongs without a doubt in a league of their own.
The cast is sincere and dedicated to telling a simple Icelandic love story in a modest but effective delivery under the guidance of director Reynir Lyngdal.
My distant maternal cousin, Brynhildur Guðjónsdóttir delivers a stellar performance as Vilborg, a woman on a crossroad in her life. Writer and star protagonist Þorsteinn Guðmundsson plays the simple and set-in-his-ways Haraldur.
Other cast members are comedic celebrity Þórhallur Sigurðsson, known as Laddi, who plays Havel; María Heba Þorláksdóttir who plays Haraldur’s sister Embla; Lilja Guðrún Þorvaldsdóttir who plays Haraldur’s mother; and Hilmir Snær Guðmundsson who plays the obnoxious ex, Pálmi.
The setting is a traditional summer cottage in Iceland’s historical Þingvellir, or “Parliament Fields,” - on the shores of the Lake Þingvallavatn. In the background of the film is the community of summer cottage keepers, guarded by the all-too-nice Haraldur.
Our Own Oslo is without a doubt one of the finest films produced in recent years. It is the perfect film to watch on any occasion and most importantly, it portrays the reserved but generous heart under the cool exterior behind which Icelanders often hide.
In my mind, Our Own Oslo is the perfect romantic comedy with a dose of realism. It is authentically Icelandic and without superficial attempts to be cool.
Our Own Oslo is available for purchase on www.nammi.is
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julia[email protected]