Dir/scr: Rúnar Rúnarsson. Iceland. 2011. 99mins
It is a odd concept to construct a coming-of-age tale around a recently retired 67 year-old man, but writer/director Rúnar Rúnarsson’s moving and neatly made drama manages to do just that, driven by a powerful and nicely uncompassionate performance by Theódór Júlíusson as a man who finds a reason to live at the most unlikely of time in his life.
Rúnar Rúnarsson’s film is neatly, simply and elegantly constructed.
On the surface Volcano is a bleak and gloomy story, but it develops into a tender tale…the final chapter of a love story between two ordinary people set against a simple suburban landscape in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. The film is an easy fit into film festival programming, but somewhat tougher to release theatrically outside Scandinavia.
When Hannes (Rúnarsson) retires from his long-time job as superintendent at a school it is clear he is heading into a void. He contemplates suicide before heading home where he has a taciturn and monosyllabic relationship with his wife Anna (Jóhannsdóttir) and is ill-at-ease with his two grown-up children who come by mainly to see their mother.
Hannes goes out fishing in his battered motor-boat, but when the craft starts to leak he has it delivered to the front garden so he can work on it. But appearances can be deceiving - there is still passion in their marriage, and after a little late-night sex he heads off the next day to get some Halibut so that his wife can make her favourite soup.
But as the pair settle down to enjoy their evening meal, Anna collapses with a massive stroke. She is given little hope of recovery by doctors, but Hannes insists on staying at her bedside, and then to his children’s annoyance - and bemusement of hospital staff - he decides to take her home and care for her 24 hours a day.
This is when he finds a new reason for living…and comes of age. He tenderly looks after Hanna, learning how to change her diaper, feed and wash her and give her morphine injections when her painful moaning grows intense. She is essentially brain-dead, but he refuses to leave her side. His dedication also sees him grow closer to his young grandson - the pair work on Hannes’ boat when the boy’s father comes to visit Anna, and gradually Hannes comes to finally show affection to the boy.
When it becomes clear that Anna is in terrible pain Hannes is faced with a hard decision…but it is decision he makes based on love rather than frustration and anger.
Rúnar Rúnarsson’s film is neatly, simply and elegantly constructed, largely shot inside the couple’s simple home, but also featuring a few telling exteriors, such as Hannes’ fishing trips and a visit at the end of the film to the volcanic town where the couple came from, but left many years before after an eruption devastated the town. It is slowly paced, but makes great use of music in the opening and closing moments.
Often the shots are beautifully framed, with the most telling a simple scene of Hannes sitting in the hospital waiting area and his two children arriving, but not embracing him and sitting on a separate bench. It is a sad and tender scene, and perhaps a moment that seals his determination to adjust his life.
Production companies: Fine & Mellow, Zik Zak Filmworks
Producers: Thor Sigurjonsson, Skuli Malmquist, Egil Dennerline
Executive producer: Thomas Gammeltoft
International sales: TrustNordisk, www.trustnordisk.com
Cinematography: Sophia Olsson
Editor: Jacob Schulsinger
Main cast: Theódór Júlíusson, Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir