8/10
Virgin Mountain warms, melts and crushes your heart.
21 October 2015
Dagur Kári is one of the most talented Icelandic directors of the century. His gorgeous and tragic 2003 debut feature Noi the Albino is one of my favourite films, not just of its year or the last decade but all-time. He followed it up two years later with the very good but not quite as memorable Dark Horse, shot mostly in stark black and white. His first English-language film featured a L.I.E. reunion pairing Paul Dano and Brian Cox in The Good Heart in 2009, but unfortunately to tepid reviews. Back behind the lens and in Iceland, he returns to the roots of Noi, another titular film (the original title is Fúsi) about an outcast maturing onto the next step of his life. Trading a rebellious troubled teen for a 43 year old overweight man yet to move out of his mother's house, Virgin Mountain mostly conjures the same magic as it brings back a similar style of filmmaking. Coming home one day to find his mother having sex on the counter just adds insult to Fúsi's injury of his arrested development. In his forties and still a virgin, he's nestled deep in his routines, rarely drinking anything stronger than milk and still buying toys. At first the film feels like a cautionary tale on the other end of the scale of Noi, where that film is about someone too defiant, and this is about someone too closed off from the world. Virgin Mountain isn't interested in stopping there, however, pushing Fúsi further. He's an airport luggage handler who's never stepped foot out of Iceland nor taken a day off and faces bullying from his co- workers everyday, even when it appears that they're trying to help. He's not friendless however, as he has a friend who plays model WW2 scenarios with him, as well as a young neighbourhood girl who bonds with Fúsi out of their mutual loneliness. In order to remove him from his comfort zone, his mother's boyfriend gifts him line dancing lessons as a present, initially as a joke. He almost attends but chooses to sit it out in the car park. Upon hitting a blizzard, the film introduces an irresistible meet-cute where he gives a lift to another loner, Sjöfn, who in turn gives him a chance like nobody else does. It sparks an invaluable friendship which both opens Fúsi's heart and willingness to grow. However, the more he learns about her, the more it begins to test their hope. As it's revealed she suffers from depression, and ostensibly bipolar disorder from her ups and downs, he offers wonderful acts of kindness as he cares for her even though she pushes away and he perhaps oversteps his bounds. His understanding of her mental condition is the soul of Virgin Mountain, and it's a contagious sentiment. While an established archetype, we rarely often get overweight introverts leading films, and Gunnar Jónsson as Fúsi delivers it with such endearing sensitivity. Fúsi's few mistakes that get him into trouble are heartbreaking to endure as he's otherwise such an empathetic character. Kári's exquisitely written script has a keen sense of repetition to keep the film thriving on its limitations. As we revisit restaurants, Fúsi's car, the line dancing class, and Sjöfn's driveway, Kári creates a delicate shorthand to give emotional punches right away with subtle changes. Even when it hits story goals, it does it in an understated way that gives way to bigger character ambitions. I wish it didn't resort to certain clichés at times – most specifically the bullying – but it knows how to handle them with sincerity. Like Noi, it's photographed with a set of beautifully vibrant yet muted colours, though its composition isn't quite as controlled as the 2003 film, allowed to be a lot looser. The same goes for the somber soundtrack provided by Kári's band Slowblow, who also did the work for Noi. This might not be the most flattering love story, but it's human, and the hope extends beyond instant gratification. Virgin Mountain is lightweight, but deeply bittersweet and personal in every corner. This is the type of film America doesn't allow itself anymore. 8/10
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