Iceland is a tiny country of about 330,000, and geographically isolated. Like many Nordic countries it is perceived as being settled and affluent with a good welfare system. However, like any European country today, it is implicated in the global refugee crisis and the mutual adjustments that this must entail.
All this is unstated background to this quietly powerful drama centred around two lives brought into relation by the new circumstances.
We initially follow Lara (Kristin Haraldsdottir). She is a thirty something single mum so down on her luck that she is scrounging for food and sleeping in her small car with her young teen son Eldar (Patrik Petersson). The bond between mother and son is close and it needs to be because there are so many things about the arbitrariness of the modern society/economy that she cannot fully explain to the trusting and sweet Eldar.
Eventually Lara lands her one chance at a stable job working in airport security. She spruces up and heads into the world of formal employment still unsure if she will make it. Quite early on in her apprenticeship she impresses her supervisor by spotting an irregularity in the passport of a refugee from Guinea-Bissau called Adja (Babetida Sadjo). Later, when we follow Adja’s story we immediately feel how scary it must be to live in the overcrowded margins of a society where fear and flight are the only constants. All Adja wants, really, like any refugee, would be the chance to relax and breathe normally.
Isold Uggadottir’s film is small scale and slowly-paced. It takes its time to show us the character development, not through dramatic or unrealistic big scenes, but rather through an accumulation of telling detail. The friendship (and later, possibly, love) between the two women carries the film engagingly. The natural performance of the wide-eyed Eldar is also a really important counterpoint.
The film is impressive for its ability to tell a near-universal modern story entirely through a close-focus view of everyday life.
There are strong echoes here of numerous cultural forebears, many of them literary: William Golding, Jules Verne and William Burroughs for example. Then there are the cinematic predecessors, like Jean Cocteau and (relatively recently) Todd Haynes. And yet, for all that, The Wild Boys is sometimes striking in ways of its own – especially visually. The gorgeous cinematography – mostly black and white – and the beautiful lighting give the film a surreal quality over and above its strange content, and somehow render its nastier elements all the more disturbing.
The premise here is that five boys (all actually played by women) commit the pack rape of their literature teacher. In an ostensible attempt to reform them, they are taken on a long sea voyage by a mysterious man known as The Captain (Sam Louwyck) – who soon proves to be at least as brutal and savage as the boys themselves. What follows is nothing if not bizarre and polymorphously perverse. The ship’s sails are covered in hair. They end up on an island in which the grass ‘gropes’ them, much of the vegetation is phallic in shape, and they begin to find themselves turning into girls. All of which occurs to the accompaniment of effective music, some of it ironically sentimental or mock-heroic.
A lot of what unfolds is difficult to describe – but then, as with an unsettling dream, you wouldn’t necessarily want to describe it. What’s more regrettable is that the story drags on a bit, so that the most benign choreographed sensuality eventually starts to look and feel like a video clip – while the more unsavoury stuff becomes too cumulatively irksome.
The Wild Boys doesn’t go anywhere interesting, or build sufficiently on its surreality, but there are enough imaginative elements in it to pass muster.
Alongside Exquisite Corpse, another VR experience is catching eyes in the interactive section at MIFF this year – Mind at War – the new project developed by director and interactive designer Sutu, and internationally leading VR producer RYOT.