Monday, April 25, 2011

Tribeca ’11: Gnarr

“We have met the enemy and he is us,” Walt Kelly told us. Icelandic comedian Jón Gnarr recently proved it is still true with his unlikely campaign for mayor of Reykjavik. What started as comedic performance art became a real deal political insurgency, documented each step of the way by filmmaker Gaukur Úlfarsson in Gnarr (trailer here), which screens at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

Gnarr once made a film with Michael Imperioli, which should preclude him from holding any office and possibly operating heavy machinery. As the 2010 municipal election season began, Iceland was still reeling from its financial tribulations. With a series of bizarre web videos, Gnarr launched his ostensibly tongue-in-cheek campaign, making a series promises emphasizing the absurdity of politics. He offered free trips to Disneyland and pledged he would not work with any elected official who had not watched all five seasons of The Wire.

So far, so good. Gnarr launched his “Best Party,” adopting Tina Turner’s cheese-drenched “Simply the Best” as their anthem. Then Gnarr started dramatically moving up the polls. Suddenly, a Gnarr mayoralty is not a joke, but a very real possibility. While the comedic actor continued incorporating outrageous improvised gags into the campaign, the tenor of his rhetoric appears to change. Absolutely, the government should pay for this or that he tells potential voters. Can it be even the smell of power corrupts? I suppose we can ask the citizens of Reykjavik. Spoiler for those who do not intimately follow Icelandic politics: According to the evil Dr. Wiki: “After the initial euphoria of the election, the city council under his leadership has raised taxes and fees while cutting expenditures on programmes. This appears to be having an influence to temper his popularity.”

Both Gnarr the man and the movie are often quite funny, particularly in the early stages of the campaign. Yet, since Úlfarsson takes a strictly observational approach, he never challenges Gnarr when he appears to pander. It might have helped him in the long run. Indeed, New York may very well be a more welcoming environment for Gnarr as he promotes his film at Tribeca.

For political junkies, Gnarr’s story is fascinating. While Úlfarsson never delves beneath the surface, he certainly captures some of recent history’s funnier moments. Whether it is an inspiring story of underdog triumph or a cautionary tale remains to be determined. A mildly whacky diversion, Gnarr screens again today (4/25) at the Tribeca Film Festival.