In the years leading up to the economic collapse in Iceland in 2008 the lives of Eik (Hera Hilmarsdóttir), a young, single mother taking desperate measures to make ends meet, Móri (Þorsteinn Bachmann), a drunken middle-aged author with a tragic past, and Sölvi (Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson), a footballer-turned-banker in a corrupt world, become intertwined.
Unlikely friendships form, the underdogs show their true colors and the shooting star takes a stumble. This is the essence of young director Baldvin Z’s second full-length feature film Life in a Fish Bowl (Vonarstræti; 2014).
Praised for its deep characterization and superb acting, the human aspect of the film is what touches the audience and has made it the highest-earning film in Icelandic movie theaters in 2014, beating international blockbusters such as The Hobbit and Wolf of Wall Street.
The film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the biggest film festivals in North America, this month to much critical acclaim. U.S. director Darren Aronofsky tweeted: “Great Icelandic actors in a sensitive captured portrait of crossed lives.”
In retrospect, what stands out is how authentic every single sequence of the film seemed. The story was dramatic yet had a realistic feel to it. The acting was never exaggerated and the conversations between characters felt natural.
This, the director explains, is the result of nine years of preparations and development work. The screenplay, written by Baldvin Z and Birgir Örn Steingrímsson, started as a compilation of stories, gradually forming a whole.
They met with the actors, not for recitals, but rather for sessions of improvisation, so that everyone could get to know the characters in great detail and the actors would feel comfortable in their interpretation.
While not directly based on real characters or events, the writers were inspired by true stories. What went down in the banking world in Iceland in the so-called boom years is shocking to say the least, especially as bankers have stated that the film “nailed” the lingo, the atmosphere and the characters, as the director states.
Equally shocking is the fact, that while most Icelanders were under the impression that the economy was booming, there were still people like Eik, who couldn’t afford the rent or groceries on a basic salary.
The storyline flowed completely naturally but there was one scene I thought was slightly confusing. Móri is looking after Eik’s daughter Heiða while reliving heart-breaking events of the past concerning his own daughter.
I would have liked to have known what exactly happened to Heiða and to what extent her experience matched that of Móri’s daughter.
Life in a Fish Bowl, is given the topic’s nature, highly dramatic, yet not without humor. There are feel-good moments as well, and perhaps that is what makes it so great.
The film is currently being screened with subtitles in Háskólabíó cinema in Reykjavík. It will be distributed internationally by German company Films Boutique.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – eyglo(at)icelandreview.com