For a country with a population of just over 350000, Iceland produces a disproportionate amount of outstanding film and TV. Think Trapped, The Valhalla Murders, White, White, Day, and The Prime Minister just to name a few recent gems.
Agnes Joy is another to add to the growing list. The first cinematic feature from writer-director Silja Hauksdóttir, it tells the story of Rannveig, a middle-aged middle-class woman, living in a small town outside of Reykjavik. She runs her family’s business, looks after her aging mother, tolerates her lazy husband Einer, and tries to control her rebellious daughter, the eponymous Agnes. She is exhausted, bored, and sexually frustrated, to the point where she even attempts some “me time” in her office during work hours! When handsome actor Hreinn moves in across the road, her life starts to take a turn. But will it be for the best or for the worst?
Hauksdóttir’s script is a total delight. Crisp, witty, authentic, and moving, it is pacey enough to keep the tension taught, yet also has elements of the slow-burn that Scandi film-makers do so well. Although the title of the film is Agnes’s name, this is really Rannveig’s story. But like Ladybird, with which it shares many commonalities, the heart of this work is the mother-daughter relationship. Ubiquitous Icelandic actor Katla M. Þorgeirsdóttir gives her usual measured, intelligent, and humane performance as Rannveig. Newcomer Donna Cruz sparkles as Agnes. Þorsteinn Bachmann (Under the Tree; The Valhalla Murders) is suitably frustrating as Einer, the husband who spends most of his time in front of the computer. And Björn Hlynur Haraldsson ( Trapped; The Borgias) gives us a Hreinn who is believably sleazy. Special mention needs to go to young actor Kristinn Óli Haraldsson as Agnes’s friend Skari, a quiet but wonderful role.
Deftly directed by Hauksdóttir, this is a film which draws you in and holds you till the last. Most women of a certain age will recognize themselves in some, if not all, of the elements of this realistic narrative.
Intelligent, compassionate, funny, and squirmingly real, Agnes Joy is, like its name, a joy.
Agnes Joy is currently screening as part of the extended Scandinavian Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend
Click here for screening times.