The Icelandic Dream



Islenski draumurinn : Iceland 2000 : Robert I Douglas : 92 mins

The portrait of a louse : Toti (Thorhallur Sveinsson), a 29-year-old would-be-yuppie on the make in downtown Reykjavik. In TV-documentary style, we follow around as he tries to introduce a dodgy Bulgarian cigarette brand to the domestic market, juggling the demands of his beautiful but neglected teenage girlfriend, his ex, their young daughter, and his former in-laws. Apart from himself, his main passion is football: playing computer simulation and management games, cheering on hapless local outfit Valur. But the ambitious Toti is also a devotee of glamorous foreigners Manchester United – appropriate choice, given his eerie resemblance to new Red Devils striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

Icelandic Dream has its moments but is, essentially, small-screen fare. It might work better as a three or four part sitcom, or perhaps a forty minute one-off, making Toti an Icelandic cousin of Steve Coogan’s enjoyably loathsome Gareth Cheeseman character from his BBC programmes. Because, as Coogan found with The Parole Officer, it’s very hard to make such character-based comedy stretch to feature length, and Douglas isn’t writer enough to pull it off. He relies on the same basic jokes all the way through, repeatedly undercutting Toti’s smug self-image with his boorish on-screen behaviour.

Toti is dislikeable at the start and no less so at the end, even after he’s been put through a variety of largely self-induced tribulations that include a spell in a very hotel-like jail. The script problems aren’t Sveinsson’s fault, of course – performances are uniformly strong, including a cameo from Matt Keeslar (the mentally unstable lawyer in Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco) as the nicey-nicey Yank dating Toti’s ex. The cast all ‘get’ the semi-improvised atmosphere that Douglas aims for, with convincingly shaky, on-the-hoof camerawork that thankfully avoids travelogue-pretty pictures. He shows a side of Iceland we probably haven’t seen before on film – but does so by adding to the very long, very tired line of the screen’s obnoxious losers.

8th January, 2002
(seen on video, Jan-5-02)

by Neil Young
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