The film Bakk (‘Reverse’), a comedy directed by Gunnar Hansson and Davíð Óskar Ólafsson, is about an unemployed actor, Gísli (played by Gunnar Hansson), who on a whim decides to back a car all around Iceland and, in the process, collect funds for charity.
The film opens as Gísli steps on stage, just before losing his job, only to be instantly stabbed and forced to play a corpse for the rest of the play. His acting abilities are wanting. The corpse is utterly incapable of keeping its eyes closed or lying still. He’s a nobody; no one in the audience notices his presence.
Subsequently, his world starts collapsing: he’s out of a job, without a wife, and out of money. Things are definitely not moving forward for him. Quite in tune with this situation, he decides to step into his father’s shoes and repeat the latter’s adventure of backing around the country and collecting donations for terminally ill children. He talks his childhood friend Viðar (played by Víkingur Kristjánsson) into joining him, and, on the way, they’re joined by a young woman whose name is Blær, or ‘Breeze’ (played by Saga Garðarsdóttir).
The two childhood friends are as different as one can imagine: Gísli is a compulsive liar, incapable of responsibility or compassion. He’s an incompetent actor, whose only memorable role has been that of a master chef, who in an ad gave bad advice on cooking. He lacks all commitment and resolve and has no morality. Although he has a sense of humor, exhibited in the way he plays with words, his company is far from pleasant. He takes advantage of others and is an exceptionally egocentric, cold person.
Viðar, on the other hand, is the kindest soul, who has never left home, although he’s in his late thirties. He lacks the practical experience of the outside world—neither drives nor knows anything about cars, not even how to turn on a car radio—although he works at a gas station. But he’s as honest as can be, a true friend, ready to shoulder responsibility, and wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s somewhat childish, has no experience with women and lacks self-confidence.
Blær, the woman who joins them on the trip, is a breath of fresh air. Her personality is cheerful and charming, open and adventurous. She embraces life, has traveled the world, and appears broad-minded. Like Viðar, she’s honest, kind, and true to her feelings.
The three main characters are well developed and memorable. The viewer is instantly charmed by Viðar’s kindness and innocence, as well as Blær’s joie de vivre. Víkingur and Saga act admirably and manage to create very convincing personalities. Their gradual attraction to each other is very credible. Víkingur’s performance is especially memorable, since he must show a wider range of emotion than any other character in the film, and he does so flawlessly. Gunnar, who acts the role of Gísli, succeeds in making his character seem cold and intolerable.
The supporting characters worth mentioning are Ásgeir, acted by Hallgrímur Ólafsson— Gísli’s relative, who works at a radio station and whose morals are as wanting as Gísli’s; Gísli’s father, acted by Þorsteinn Gunnarsson; Inga Magga, acted by Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, who works at the radio station and interviews Viðar; and the older mechanic, acted by Þorsteinn Bachmann.
Although Ásgeir’s role is small, he’s very convincing as the man who keeps no promises and is quite corrupt. Gísli’s father, Inga Magga, and the older mechanic, however, all seem to go too far in their acting. It’s much too exaggerated, as if they had been told to overdo it. This is especially true for Inga Magga, whose character verges on the absurd.
For Viðar, this is a coming-of-age story, for he gradually comes out of his shell and gains the confidence to express his feelings for Blær and his opinion of his egocentric friend. Driving around the country doesn’t change Gísli, though. His life is likely to keep going in circles, and the orbit will never change: for the rest of his life, he will revolve around himself only.
The script is mostly well written, with good humor in between, including clever puns, with the exception of the radio interview Inga Magga conducts with Viðar. There, the humor is vulgar and this part of the script appears to have been written by immature teenagers.
Landscape plays a big role in Bakk and plays it well, which is why people who don’t understand Icelandic might be able to enjoy much of the movie where beautiful nature is allowed to shine as the car moves in reverse past mountains and bridges—almost always in good weather.
Bakk is a film that takes you on a journey, internal as well as external. Parts of it are enjoyable: much of the acting is laudable; there are beautiful landscape scenes; the music is enjoyable, and there are many interesting conversations. Still, consistency is lacking, and you come away with valuable bits and pieces from an imperfect whole. The circle, somehow, does not seem complete.
Available on VOD from Vodafone and Síminn
In Icelandic without subtitles
Expected on DVD with English subtitles by Christmas