It isn’t just the frosty, Icelandic setting that distinguishes the coming-of-age story that Dagur Kari spins in Noi Albinoi (Noi the Albino). First and foremost a mood-piece, it’s the timbre of the picture, much of which takes shape first as a gentle quirky comedy before a jolting turn to tragedy in the final reel. Hardly revolutionising the familiar equilibrium-disruption-reequilbrium film idiom, it covers familiar territory in a sufficiently distinctive way to make it intriguing and appealing.
Noi is a bald, gangly youth of seventeen played by Tomas Lemarquis. Stuck in a remote, unnamed Icelandic settlement with his oddball grandmother Lina (Anna Fridriksdottir), he struggles to muster up enough enthusiasm to even get out of bed in the morning; that is, until his grandmother fires of an alarming shotgun out of his bedroom window, of course. He is the bane of his teachers, frequently skipping classes, missing homework, and eventually sending a microrecorder with a classmate to take his place at his desk. With his luck running out, he is expelled by the sympathetic but exhausted headmaster, much to the distress of Noi’s father Kiddi (Throstur Leo Gunnarsson), a heavy drinker who wants his son to have the success that he foolishly threw away. Although he plays the fool, Noi is no dummy. Almost ashamed of his intelligence, he spends much of his solitary time reading in a locked away, secret basement den he has fashioned in his grandmother’s house. His adolescent tedium is quashed however when a pretty out-of-towner named Iris (Elin Hansdottir) starts working in the hamlet’s local cafe.
Perfectly represented by the sprightly young actor Tomas Lemarquid, Noi represents the disenchantment youth of today and tomorrow. Even though he might look peculiar, the hapless character is as clueless and bored as the rest of his student peers. The point is made pictorially in the contrast between Noi’s job experience after his expulsion – he becomes the caretaker of a church cemetery that’s a model of icy desolation – and the gloriously warm and sunny photos of South Sea islands on a Viewmaster disc given to him by his grandmother as a birthday present. And his desperation is made even clearer when he ineptly tries, in a sequence both funny and poignant, to get the funds to to escape the beautifully desolate settings’ icy clutches. Trying and failing, the sudden resolution takes “Noi” into a very different mood from that which has preceded, one that’s a strange and not entirely successful mixture of loss and hope.
The debut from promising Icelandic director Dagur Kari, Noi Albinoi is a slight but inexplicably affecting dramedy. Shot in a stunning, warm green hue – juxtaposing the gelid and barren landscape – the result is vividly observant and holds the attention with imaginative detail and a veneer of deadpan humor, like thin ice over a sea of despair.
Noi Albinoi (Noi the Albino) is available in all good world-cinema stores, and probably some shit ones too.