With a population of just 300,000, Iceland is too small to play a major role in world cinema, and that's too bad because no place on Earth photographs better. See any Icelandic film, and no matter the story, the stark landscape is always a co-star.
Such is the case with Nói albinói, a deceptively simple tale of a typically sullen and disaffected teen (Tómas Lemarquis) who has the bad luck to be stuck in a tiny wind-blasted town pushed to the edge of the sea by a razor-sharp mountain that looms ominously. It's not as if Nói can go see a movie at the multiplex in the mall when he's bored.
The kid cuts a strange figure. Tall, bald, pale (albino, actually), and gaunt, Nói lopes through town in a light blue Members Only jacket and Lee jeans looking not unlike the guy in Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" right before the scream happens. Living with his grandmother (Anna Fridriksdóttir), a woman who wakes him up in the morning by firing a rifle near his head, is certainly no fun. His useless father (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson), the town drunk, lives in a shack nearby. An Elvis fan, Dad sings along to "In the Ghetto" while he drives the town taxi, a funny occupation in a town where few people ever step outside.
Nói has an innate curiosity and intelligence but can't figure out what to do with it in such bleak surroundings. A high school student, he sleeps through class (when be bothers to show up at all), and he's a constant frustration to his well-meaning teachers, who think the best solution is to force him to see the government psychologist who's passing through town. All in all, Nói seems happiest when he's hiding in Grandma's chilly root cellar.
Life gets a bit more exciting for Nói when a pretty new girl (Elín Hansdóttir) shows up in town to take a job at the local gas station/café. He's immediately smitten and uses whatever charms a rural Icelandic teenager can muster to win her over. It's a challenge, though. She's a city girl -- if you can call Reykjavik a city -- and she's heard all the lines before. Since a date in this town consists of standing in a parking lot during a snowstorm smoking cigarettes, they're both soon equally bored, and, like teens everywhere and always, they start fantasizing about getting the hell out of this place. But the mountain looms. Can they really escape their geographical fate? Watch Nói work as a gravedigger in the local cemetery, where the ground is frozen solid. Talk about a classic image of frustration! Things don't look good.
Writer/director Dagur Kári deserves credit for making boredom this interesting. He has crafted what looks at first like an episode of Northern Exposure. Everyone in the town is a charming character with quirky habits and mannerisms that serve to amuse. The town functions, and everyone gets along. But so much more is going on beneath the surface. Nói is the wild card, and watching him shiver as he wanders the snow-swept streets aimlessly with his hat pulled down low and his hands plunged in his pockets, it's impossible not to feel his anguish. He has a fire inside, but it's almost impossible for him to tend it in such a cold and windy place.
The DVD includes deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
Aka Nói, Noialbinoi.
Noi time for love, Dr. Jones.