Review: Islandia (2018), by Eydís Eir Brynju-Björnsdóttir

Unfortunately, Islandia is a true story. The title card in the end of the film, just before the closing credits, informs us that its writer-director Eydís Eir Brynju-Björnsdóttir was raped by the employee of the hotel where she was staying in Antalya, Turkey and, while reporting the crime, charged for vandalism. She spent some time in prison before she was eventually deported and banned from entering Turkey ever again. The hotel employee with the history of sexually assaulting women still works there and the travel agency still books the same hotel.

Islandia was filmed in Spain by a numerous and professional cast and crew, and premiered at Northern Wave International Film Festival in Iceland. It was screened at the first edition of RVK Feminist Film Festival, where we saw it.

The series of events in the non-linear plot of this deeply personal film dedicated to the author’s mother who had traumatic experiences of her own, opens in a hotel with a young woman running down the hallway. Her name is Brynja (played by Thóra Karítas Árnadóttir) and she tries to report the incident to the police, only to be interrogated and arrested. From there, the plot jumps between her time in prison where she befriended her cellmates, the therapy session back home and her memories about her time in Turkey she relives under hypnosis.

Islandia is an exceptionally strong piece of work, channelling the anxiety subsequent to multiple trauma caused not only by rape, but also by the faulty system in which blaming the victim is more than a common practice. The actors, especially Árnadóttir, are very compelling in the portray of their characters and Brynju-Björnsdóttir succeeds in finding just the right kind of tone so the traps of cultural stereotypes are largely avoided. The characters of fellow inmates, police officers, prison guards and even the people on the street where Brynja is cat-called and surrounded by men, have their faces and character traits. Also, the Mediterranean coast of Spain functions as a convincing stand-in for Turkey.

On technical level, Islandia is also very solid. The director was lucky to have the help from experienced filmmaker Marzibil Saemundardóttir who also served as one of the film’s producers. The cinematography by Ray Dumas is great, especially in aspects how he handles the movement in his largely hand-held modus operandi. The music by Nicolas Liebing also hits the mood perfectly, but the principal hero here is the editor Ágústa Margarét Jóhhansdóttir who cuts the narrative divided in different plot-lines into a coherent and intriguing whole.

Original Title: Islandia
Year: 2018
Country: Spain, Iceland
Runtime: 18’08”
Production Companies: Arcus, Salas Filmworks
Supported by: Erasmus +, Icelandic Film Institute, Jafnrétissothur
Directed by: Eydís Eir Brynju-Björnsdóttir
Co-directed by: Marzibil Saemundardóttir
Written by: Eydís Eir Brynju-Björnsdóttir
Producers: Svava Lóa Stefánsdóttir, Ársael Níelsson, Marzibil Saemundardóttir, Carolina Salas
Cinematographer: Ray Dumas
Editor: Ágústa Margarét Jóhhansdóttir
Music: Nicolas Liebing
Cast: Thóra Karítas Árnadóttir, Jennifer Expósito Gambettola, Cedma Móran Morales Perez, Paula Foncea Mebdoua, Mikeka Nshimbi García, Victoria Josefina Santos Abrew, Pablo Tercero, Guthrun Sesselja Árnadóttir, Jose Manuel Chacón Pineyro, Massimo Ferroni D’Andrea, David Cid Ruiz, Guadalupe Fernández Etura, Salomé Pena Aleman, Trigo Gómez, Alberto Rivas