Thursday, October 20, 2016

Autumn Lights: Love and Depression in Iceland

Iceland gets over a quarter of its electricity from geothermal plants, so you might think it would be the perfect setting for a steamy, hothouse mystery. It still might be so, assuming future filmmakers do not forget to include the mystery part. Viewers will have to make do with the angst and sex of Angad Aulakh’s Autumn Lights (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

David planned to spend the summer with his lover Eva, while he worked on a nature photography assignment on a remote Icelandic island, but she threw a spanner in the works by dumping him. To make things even more depressing, he finds an apparent suicide victim while walking on the beach the next day. Now he won’t be able to leave until the fussbudget local cops finish their investigation. However, this does not seem so depressing when he meets Marie, the hot-blooded Italian wife of the painfully Nordic Jóhann.

For a while, David concentrates on Marie’s super-blonde Icelandic BFF Liv, but he knows Marie is compulsively inclined towards infidelity. When they finally give into temptation, he starts getting rather possessive, which is downright tacky under the circumstances.

Poor old Jóhann happens to be a hunter. In terms of narrative, this is a rather inconsequential detail, but it allows Aulakh to shoot enough scenes of him holding a rifle to make the trailer look deceptively thrillerish. Honestly, by the time the film loops back around to the suicide investigation, it has become a completely anticlimactic tangent.

Instead, we get to watch David walk through a veritable land of ECM record jackets, brooding and taking pictures. It may very well be largely a function of the film’s Ikea ambience, but Guy Kent (resembling a poor man’s Eric Balfour) just doesn’t connect as David. Lusty and impish, Marta Gastini at least makes an impression as Marie. Frankly, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson deserves mucho credit for almost redeeming the film with his slow-burning, tightly-controlled turn as Jóhann—almost, but not quite.

A film this sexually preoccupied should never be so deathly dull. Iceland’s coastline looks pristine and invigorating, but Aulakh’s script is muddled and tired. Safely skippable, Autumn Lights opens tomorrow (10/21) in New York, at the Cinema Village.