Many people have asked me what Icelandic films and TV are like, and for some recommendations. I have deliberately steered away from doing reviews of either video or music on this blog, as these things are so subjective. Below I will give some brief synopses of Icelandic TV shows and films that I’ve watched. You can always contact me if you want more information on any of them.
You can buy these on sites like www.nammi.is, or Icelandic Cinema Online is a streaming service. Iceland also produces many “short” films, which seem to be a bit of a speciality – I think every one that I have ever watched on Icelandair was worth watching.
TV series: OK, so Iceland isn’t known globally for its groundbreaking television…but there are some gems out there…
Næturvaktin / Dagvaktin / Fangavaktin : (Night Shift/ Day Shift/ Prison Shift)
The “vaktins” became known to a larger audience when Næturvaktin was on BBC4 two years ago. Comedian Jón Gnarr and current mayor of Reykjavík steals the show with his creation Georg, an extremely annoying and ridiculous boss with a vulnerable side. In fact all the characters in this series have hidden depths and there is a real feeling of poignancy and sadness in the comedy. All 3 series are good in different ways – it’s worth watching them in order as there is some follow-through and truly astounding twists of plot.
Heimsendir : (World’s End)
Featuring some of the same cast as the “vaktins” and with the same director Ragnar Bragason, this series is set in a mental asylum. I found it less funny, but with some truly scary watching-behind-fingers parts. This lasted for only season – I guess it was a good idea but only so far you could go with it.
Films: Icelandic cinema has won some international awards and its quirkiness seems to be a bit more appreciated than the TV shows…
Guess what – there is a slick film finale to the “vaktins”! With much higher production standards this is quite a contrast, and there is a neat ending which seems to indicate we will get no more from these characters. You could watch this on its own but would miss quite a lot of references. Definitely worth watching if you have persevered through all 3 TV series.
A documentary focusing on Jón Gnarr’s mayoral campaign. I managed to watch the best bits of it on a flight and was then disappointed when I watched the rest. Just don’t expect it to be that funny and appreciate it as a behind the scenes look at Icelandic politics.
Noi the Albino :
Teenage life in the Westfjords, as dull as it sounds until one day something quite shocking happens. I can’t say much about this film without giving the plot away, but it’s a bit of a classic.
Á Annan Veg (“Either Way”) :
Two men work on the Ring Road painting lines during one summer in the 1980’s…I know this sounds really dull but as with many Icelandic stories it’s based on ordinary life. I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would but apparently some big remake is being made of it. An interesting dynamic between the two main characters.
Stóra Planið (“Higher Force”) :
Did you like those 1970’s kung fu films? Well, so does our hero. Can he learn things from watching them to make him a hero in real life? A bit of a comedy/action/retro bizarre offering, pleasant enough to sit through but not a classic. It does feature one of Iceland’s best known actors, Ingvar E Sigurðsson.
Okkar eigin Osló (“Our Own Oslo”) :
A typical love story about opposites attracting. Perhaps the least “Icelandic” film of any of the above, it did well but is quite generic. A nice, easy watch.
Mýrin (“The Marsh / Jar City”) :
Based on the first Indriðason Detective Erlendur book, brilliantly acted and directed.