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IFFR 2023 Tiger Competition

Review: Mannvirki


- Icelandic director Gústav Geir Bollason's first feature is a cryptic, no-dialogue hybrid with immersive sound design which seems to deal with the relationship between man and nature

Review: Mannvirki

Among cinema's multitude of styles, forms and genres, there are hermetic narrative films open to interpretation, and there are impenetrable experimental films. Icelandic director Gústav Geir Bollason's first feature, Mannvirki [+see also:
film profile
, which has just world-premiered in IFFR’s Tiger Competition, sits somewhere between the two. More of an experience than a story, it still offers glimpses of possible narratives within the many contrasts it consists of.

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There are people in the film, but there are no characters in the traditional sense, except perhaps as echoes of mythological archetypes. The only real character is a monumental, decrepit and rusty concrete-and-iron structure (mannvirki means "structure" in Icelandic) on the edge of a fjord, as if posing as a water tank, a power plant or a factory. In fact, this character is played by a run-down former fish-processing plant.

Several people of various ages and sexes are all doing something on, around or inside the structure. Even though it is rarely clear what it is that they are doing, they are immersed in it, as if it was an ancient ritual. A young woman climbs down to the bottom of the structure through a hatch on the roof, and starts airbrushing an unrecognisable symbol on the damp, swollen wall, holding a feather. Another is literally beating the water inside the structure with an object reminiscent of a short-handled broom or a bundle of branches, like those used in a sauna to help improve blood circulation.

A man in a canoe or a kayak is paddling through the ocean with his hands, which are gloved, Edward Scissorhands-style, except instead of blades, there are feathers attached to them. Another guy is putting rocks together in a Stonehenge-like formation. Yet another is pushing a tyre containing four bottles of sand positioned in a cross shape – a wheel of time, of sorts.

The camera dives under water to film sea kelp, and then we see a woman hanging the brown leaves out to dry. Another lady is pouring a black liquid into a jar and appears to be making some kind of apparatus for hand-drilling oil. Two people on one of the structure's many roofs are scratching rust off it, which looks like orange moss. We spot a whale coming up for breath; a dog is hanging around with the humans.

The organic and the (post-)industrial intertwine and fuse together. Oil, soot and ashes abound in these strange rituals; wooden blocks are piled up together with metal pipes and rubber hoses, and then a big fat bee lands on it.

There is no dialogue, except for three lines of Sjón's poetry read in a woman's voice-over at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the film, which serve as the only potential clues. Meanwhile, Hafdís Bjarnadóttir's impressionistic, drone-like music and Ingvar Lundberg's sound design are so immersive that, if you close your eyes, you can experience a whole other film. The screeching and clanging of metal, the sound of boots on the concrete, the lapping of waves and bird noises create an elaborate soundscape that accompanies Bollason's camera as it slowly pans over the rough textures of the structure. It has become a part of the coastal landscape, the two fused together in entropy and decay. If Mannvirki has a message, it is probably located there, in the interaction between man and nature.

Mannvirki is a production by Icelandic company Go to Sheep.

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