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03/11/15 5:46am
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03/11/2015 5:46 AM |

Image courtesy of Cinelicious

Of Horses and Men
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
March 11–17 at MoMA

Metalhead
Directed by Ragnar Bragason
March 18, 20 at Scandinavia House;
Opens March 20 at Cinema Village

The Icelandic cinema began, after a few one-offs, in 1979, with the formation of the Icelandic Film Fund, and its first major production, Land and Sons, an adaptation of Indriði Þorsteinsson’s novel about a young man who sells the family farm. Two Icelandic films from 2013, both playing in New York City this month, continue to work through Iceland’s ambivalent relationship with a rural heritage long since altered by the mass urban migration of WWII and after, but still heavily present in the national self-image, especially in a current economy based around the saleability of nature and a millennium-long history of hardy homesteaders.

Image courtesy of MoMA

Benedikt Erlingsson’s Of Horses and Men, a compendium of vignettes with an overlapping cast of neighboring horse farmers and their animals, peaks, as it were, in its first scene, with the social humiliation of Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, the country’s most respected actor, in a gag featuring some all-time animal-wrangling degree-of-difficulty. As the film continues, photogenic, pint-sized Icelandic horses (mascots of the country’s new tourism-based economy) remain on equal footing with their human scene partners—though that’s not to say that the horses are personified. The film’s Icelandic title, Hross í oss, translates as “horse in us,” though both the noun and pronoun are archaic words out of use in modern Icelandic. Indeed, the tales the film spins are both bawdy, in their focus on animalistic lusts—more than one species is seen to copulate outdoors, gruntingly—and at times pleasingly legendary, with incidents of retributive blindness, unexpected visions, and land disputes as vicious as in the times of the Sagas. The film gets laughs at backwards folkways—blind clear-booze drunkenness, naked lust, general venality—but the humor is also nostalgic in its passed-down broadness. The final shot is a frankly elegiac picture of community ritual.

More oblique, but more searing, as a meditation on country life, is Ragnar Bragason’s Metalhead. Ragnar is a city mouse now: his previous credits include Children and Parents, Mike Leigh-influenced ensemble films made with the alternative theater group Vesturport, and the TV sitcom Nightshift and its subsequent spin-offs, with comedian-turned-Reykjavík mayor Jón Gnarr. Here, though, he returns to the eternal theme of growing up as Getting Out, shooting on farms tucked between glaciers and ocean on the island’s south coast, in a wintry palette evocative of thrifty, clenched emotion. Newcomer Thora Bjorg Helga plays Hera, scarred at an early age by her older brother’s accidental death, and grown into the titular corpse-painted wild child, taking late-night drunk joyrides on tractors and railing against the rectitude of grange-hall dances and Sundays at a church a half-dozen pews deep. (The film is set around the 1980s and 90s, but, as in Of Horses and Men, the cosy farmhouse interiors have a free-floating later-ish-20th-century timelessness.) With its treatment of rustic Nordic isolation and boredom, misfit adolescence and trauma beyond words, this would be a totally metal movie even if Slayer and Priest did not become Hera’s headphone sanctuary and the voice of her anger against God. Structurally, Metalhead is more mixtape than album. But individual scenes, of Hera blasting on her dead brother’s guitar in the barn, or of her battles of wills with the hip local priest and her repressed parents, are mounted with simple life-or-death conviction in the writing, performance and, auðvitað, soundtrack, and play like majestic, doomy riffs.

12/30/14 8:02pm
12/30/2014 8:02 PM |

Artwork: Ragna Róbertsdóttir. Lava Landscape, 2014. Photograph: Eileen Travell, Scandinavia House/The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 2014.

A seasonably seasoned mix of Editor’s Picks culled with chromatics and countdowns in mind. On that latter note, happy New Year!

ICELAND: ARTISTS RESPOND TO PLACE
Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street, through January 10th
Relatively small and somewhat obligatorily sparsely populated, the landmass and nation a bit misleadingly referred to—per geopolitical lore of yore—as Iceland is a place with more than its fair share of terrestrial curiosities, seasonal extremes, atmospheric splendor, and visually bewildering geological wonders. No wonder, then, that artists working in all types of mediums and expressive modes seek to somehow harness and convey some of this charmed terrain’s most alluring aspects. The show Iceland: Artists Respond to Place—a special group exhibit featuring the work of Egill Sæbjörnsson, Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Olafur Eliasson, Georg Guðni Hauksson, Einar Falur Ingólfsson, Birgir Andrésson, Guðrún Einarsdóttir, Guðjón Ketilsson, Eggert Pétursson, Ragna Róbertsdóttir and Þórdís Alda Sigurðardóttir—pays testimony to such creative tendencies with a range of chromatically, topographically, even materially appropriative, largely turf-reflective pieces. One might say that these artists’ homeland is their muse, but it might be more accurate to call it their palette. The island itself, after all, is rather shaped like one.

CY TWOMBLY, SPENCER FINCH
The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave., through January 31st and 11th, respectively
You have a couple excellent reasons to make a pilgrimage to The Morgan at the outset of the new year. One is the Cy Twombly exhibition, Treatise on the Veil, an exquisite and instructive display of the second iteration of the artist’s eponymous masterpiece—a massive, musically imbued yet chromatically somber work over ten yards long that the artist made in Rome in the 1970’s—accompanied by a nearly show-stealing suite of preparatory drawings related to the painting’s execution. Your other exhibitional reason, similarly epic in scale and conceptual scope, is Spencer Finch’s A Certain Slant of Light, a site-specific work we first recommended several months ago for its calendric chromatic shifts and now precisely configured, now coincidental aesthetics. This latter piece is up for a couple more weeks. The former, until the end of the month. Head to The Morgan soon to indulge in the vacillatory beauties of both.

HOLIDAY EXPRESS: TOYS AND TRAINS FROM THE JERNI COLLECTION
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, Nov. 21st through Feb. 22nd
This might not be the only grand showcasing of model trains and their many splendid accoutrements coming to NYC this holiday season, but it might well be the most robustly arrayed and envisioned among them all—from the 150-piece exhibition’s spatial extent, taking up a great deal of the museum’s first floor, to its many constituent mediums including theatrical lighting, multimedia screens and a soundscape. What’s more, this grand train isn’t the only marquee item in the show. There are also aircraft, ships, boats and buildings galore, as well as some particularly precious hand-painted toys. Recently acquired by the New-York Historical Society, all of these marvels of model-making and toy-craft were gathered over a half century by Jerry and Nina Greene (hence ‘Jerni Collection’). It’s almost disconcertingly hard to fathom what children’s playtime might have been like in such a household—or adults’ playtime, for that matter—but checking out this show will rather easily stir the imagination into felicitous places.

ZERO: COUNTDOWN TO TOMORROW, 1950s–60s
Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave., through January 7th
Amounting to a most fitting follow-up to the museum’s recent showing of Italian Futurism, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow—such an apropos title to bear in mind toward the end of a year—pays tribute to an initially German, then later widely international art movement whose participants’ aesthetic interests pertained to the repositioning of art—and its potentially redefinable practitioners—in the wake of World War II. Paintings and installations, films and photographs, sculptures and zines, the works in this show—by forty artists, in sum, from ten countries—cover a broad range of styles and practices, all the while conveying their crafters’ common ambition to rupture borders, break through walls, push envelopes, propose new challenges.

Follow Paul D’Agostino on Twitter @postuccio

Einar Falur Ingólfsson. By Lake Þingvellir, from the series Skjol/Shelters, 2012. C-print, 30 x 40 in. (76 x 102 cm). At Scandinavia House.