Iceland, as director Baltasar Kormakur informs us in our exclusive interview, is a perfect setting for a film noir. He’s right: all that darkness, the bleak landscape, the isolation, the huge skies? They’re instant mood-setting. Just a shame (if shame is the right word) that crime is virtually non-existent and that the country only contains 300,000 people.
However, it’s that limited population that indirectly spawned this impressive, intriguing film. As a small, isolated country, Iceland made a perfect test group for medical research and in the late 90s a genetic research company called deCODE Genetics Inc., came along to test the theory. Or, indeed, exploit the country, depending on how you look at it. While the possibilities of the company’s research remain endless, they also have access to everybody’s medical files. It’s in this grey area that Jar City operates.
On the surface, it’s standard police procedural. Inspector Erlendur (Sigurosson) is investigating the murder of an elderly man. Their investigation rakes up very little other than a photo of a girl’s grave and an ancient accusation that the elderly victim was responsible for a terrible crime. Digging into this even colder case, Erlendur finds himself tracing genetic secrets to find the killer’s identity.
That side of the plot, and the unusual setting, would be enough to make Jar City a fascinating experience. What sets it apart from the pack is the parallel story, Erlendur’s own domestic troubles where this straightest of arrows is attempting to keep his drug addict daughter (Erlendsdottir) under control. It’s a fascinating nature v nurture counterpoint to the investigation, the significance of which only becomes obvious as the strands pull suddenly (and twistily) together.
Performances are excellent, particularly Sigurosson and Erlendsdottir, while Kormakur’s direction is intimate and subtle, making that twist all the more powerful as it sinks in. Intelligent, emotional and thought-provoking, Jar City should find itself on many Top Tens for the year.
• Official Site
• Jar City (Myrin) at IMDb