Monday, September 22, 2008

Rural Route: Quiet Storm

It can be pretty lonely up north. As the land of fields and fjords Scandinavia has its share of rustic countryside, which explains the programming collaboration between the Rural Route Film Festival and the Scandinavia House, presenting a series of films set in rural Scandinavia. Evidently, the American belief in the virtues of country living as an antidote for delinquency also had currency in Scandinavia, or at least the early 1970’s Iceland dramatized in Quiet Storm (Veðramót, Icelandic trailer here), the first film in the series, which screens this Wednesday.

At the Veðramót juvenile detention facility, the hippies are literally running the prison. Selma has run away from her respectable middle class home to join her boyfriend Blöffi as caretakers of a remote prison farm for highly disturbed teens. With paintings of Marx and Che on the wall, they oversee their charges with scrupulous respect for their self-esteem. Knowing nothing about their past, they encourage the teens to open up in their rap session group meetings. Do not bother rolling your eyes, because the kids do it for the audience.

Obviously things go bad, because the film is told as a flashback precipitated by a letter sent by Disa, one of the former Veðramót kids, now serving time for murdering her abusive step-father. Fishing for clemency, she writes to the middle-aged Selma (who returned to her bourgeois roots to become a judge), explaining what really happened during their fateful time on the farm.

Veðramót really is in the middle of nowhere. The vistas are impressive, but the isolation exacerbates Disa’s emotional problems. Although some of the troubled teens show initial progress in their new environment, she is a destabilizing influence in the house, determined to sabotage Selma and Blöffi’s relationship.

While far from a celebration of rural living, Storm makes effective use of its remote location, arrestingly filmed by cinematographer Svein Krovel. Surprisingly, the younger actors are the more convincing in the cast. Hera Hilmarsdottir is the stand out as the manipulative Disa and Jörundur Ragnarsson is just plain creepy as the highly disturbed young Sammi. However, Tinna Hrafnsdottir never looks right as Selma, appearing too young to be a magistrate and too old to be college drop-out.

Writer-director Guðný Halldórsdóttir displays little sentimental attachment for the era, dramatically illustrating the consequences when good intentions collide with reality. Never send a hippie to do Father Flanagan’s job seems to be the moral. Storm is a legitimately edgy film that could probably never get picked up by politically correct art-house distributors, so catching it at Scandinavia House is recommended. It screens this Wednesday and Saturday.