Critic-turned-filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson gave Iceland its first world hit with 1991's elemental drama of old age, CHILDREN OF NATURE. His subsequent MOVIE DAYS (BIODAGAR), is an autobiographical account of youth under the distant influence of Hollywood. Sooner or later, every
self-conscious celluloid auteur seems moved to make a bittersweet, movie-minded nostalgia piece, and Fridriksson's loosely-plotted contribution occupies middle ground between the fevered melodrama of Giuseppe Tornatore's CINEMA PARADISO (1988) and the purely impressionist memory play of Terence
Davies' THE LONG DAY CLOSES (1992).
Young Tomas (Orvar Jens Amarsson), son of a customs official, lives near a US Air Force Base in early-1960s Reykjavik. There, he undergoes a constant and pervasive bombardment of the troops' imported Yankee entertainment, whether cowboy pictures and TV shows or American rock 'n' roll radio. Even a
local Communist scoutmaster, who campaigns against capitalism and screens Sergei Eisenstein films for neighborhood kids, dutifully alerts authorities when Soviet agents try to recruit him to spy (Tomas glimpses the conspiracy, but his vivid imagination blows it up into such a Cold War intrigue
that the viewer can't be sure how much is real). After some end-of-school mischief with booze and voyeurism, the boy's parents decide Tomas should spend the summer with his aunt and uncle at their farm on the northern plains, away from bad influences. Given a warm welcome, Tomas indeed finds
simple pleasures in the austere yet eventful rural life, the natural beauty of the land, and traditional Scandinavian folktales told at bedtime. His stay is interrupted, however, by news that his father has died suddenly. The family convenes in Reykjavik for the funeral, then go to the movies
The film is less a single coherent story than it is an arrangement of episodes, many of them tantalizing fragments, such as Tomas nervously bringing food to a hermit relative, dwelling in squalor and misery, who is never explained nor heard from again. MOVIE DAYS is bookended by a grand running
gag, however. When Tomas' family learns that an Icelandic beauty-queen-turned-actress appears in a Hollywood historical drama, they attend out of patriotic duty, only to see that real-life performer Sirry Steffen's role in 1962's low-budget HITLER is but a walk-on as buxom nurse to the sex-crazed
dictator. In the resolution, the reunited clan eagerly attend a new release promising Steffen in the female lead--a bikini-clad heroine in the sci-fi/horror cheapie THE CRAWLING HAND (1963). Grownups are appalled, but Tomas really digs the tacky creature feature, and the friendly poke at American
cultural imperialism is sharpened by a sense that the lad has enjoyed the best of both his worlds after all.
MOVIE DAYS' story line may be slight, and the likable father is onscreen so briefly that his loss carries little weight, but the script's knowing good humor, careful pacing and upbeat attitude make it a pleasant coming-of-age saga, comprehensible to audiences whether hardcore Icelandophiles or
not. If self-indulgence is the pitfall of the "my love affair with the movies" movie, good filmmaking proves the palliative, and Fridriksson acquits himself well. And what devoted fan of obscure trivia could resist a tribute to unsung starlet Sirry Steffen? (Sexual situations, adult situations,substance abuse.)
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- Released: 1994
- Review: Critic-turned-filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson gave Iceland its first world hit with 1991's elemental drama of old age, CHILDREN OF NATURE. His subsequent MOVIE DAYS (BIODAGAR), is an autobiographical account of youth under the distant influence of Holly… (more)