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A Letter from Helga (Svar við bréfi Helgu)

Love burns red hot smoke in this strangely charming depiction of romance from the 1940s - in the Baltic Competition from the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


If you’re looking for a thunderous story based on ice and fire, you’re better off sticking to one of the many Thor movies in your local video store. Because what emerges from this film isn’t fire and steel, but flicker and ember, as a village of people gather together to enjoy life as a grand commune. Set on an Icelandic island, the film takes a lyrical tone, which is fitting because one of the characters, Helga, is an aspiring poet. It’s through this predilection for flair, wit and poetry that encourages her to embark on a passionate affair with a farmer, scandalously below her station in life. The lead is played by Hera Hilmar, the daughter of Hilmar Oddsson, who just won the Best Picture prize at Tallinn for his equally poetic feature Driving Mum)

This is not a feverish drama, but instead one that celebrates the landscape as thoroughly as it does the characters caught in an animal embrace. Behind the waters, a war is brewing, as the film adopts the milieu of the 1940s. In one sense, the film recalls the films of the 1940s, considering its slow pace and leisured, naturalistic approach to filmmaking. As it happens, the film is designed to be cherished, and although the characters talk in a style that is difficult to follow on first viewing, the silhouettes exhibit a village who are engaged with the little things in life. Farmers tend to their lambs and their children, surrounded by agrarian beauty.

The film serves as a travelogue of sorts: Throughout the film, there were several points when I thought “I’ll buy a ticket to Iceland next year”. But the film’s central journey is ultimately an internal one, especially for Helga, who spends a great deal of the movie querying her purpose on this island. The film’s lead is a strong one, essentially piecing together a dissertation of lust and silent despair.

True, this isn’t going to be a Christmas favourite in years to come (a shame, considering the crisp, cold weather), but it could very well enjoy a second life as a Spring time film favourite. Arthouse films tend to be favoured during April and May, and in this scenario the temperature, torment and theatre could be enjoyed by viewers. And for those who don’t enjoy the love story can be swayed by the soaring footage of crashing waves and mewing sheep. Yes, this has potential to be a Spring favourite. But don’t expect a volcano or thunderous soundtrack.

This co-production between Iceland, the Netherlands and Estonia is showing in the Baltic Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By - 27-11-2022

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