Agnes Joy

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Agnes Joy
"A nicely observed drama with rounded, sympathetic characters."

In the context of the wider world, Iceland itself risks seeming like a backwater. Like everywhere else, though, it has its exciting central locale – Reykjavík, where there and nightclubs and parties and bright lights shining out across the bay – and it has what Americans refer to as ‘dormer towns’, large suburban areas whose residents do very little except eat, sleep, and drive to more interesting places. In one of these, Akranes, Agnes Joy (Donna Cruz) and her friends, too young to drive, wallow in frustration. Some of them have already surrendered, just sitting at home in the evenings watching TV. Others sit out on the beach from which they can at least see Reykjavík. Agnes wants to go out partying there but getting back would require hitching a ride and her friends are too scared to do that. Agnes isn’t scared of much except being stuck unable to control her own destiny.

Equally frustrated, in a different way, is Rannveig (Katla Þorgeirdóttir), Agnes’ mother. She’s bored with her job at a struggling company, her husband Einár (Þorsteinn Bachmann) is stifling her, and to top it off, Agnes is refusing to cooperate with her only hope of getting some time out – a trip to the Philippines to meet the adopted girl’s birth mother. To Agnes, this is an imposition too far. She doesn’t identify with her birth country. Though she may live in a subtly racist environment (in a school Icelandic lesson, the legendary Gunnar is praised as being handsome because of his fair skin; elsewhere, a man assumes that she must be a sex worker), she feels wholly Icelandic and her concerns are those of other local teenagers.

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Things come to a head when a new neighbour moves in, catching the eyes of both mother and daughter. Hreinn (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) is a television actor, making him by far the most glamorous figure to grace this quiet town within living memory. As the hapless Einár looks on, having hoped only for a new friend, both his wife and daughter get worryingly close to the newcomer with potentially catastrophic results for the family.

Agnes is not a victim here, though most of the characters could be said to be exploited by somebody, exploiting someone else. She’s 19 and pretty clear about what she wants. But that’s part f the problem. Rannveig simply isn’t ready to see her as an adult. Letting go of her little girl will force her to face up to the void in the rest of her life. Meanwhile, Agnes’ grandmother has words of wisdom for both of them – welcome or not.

A nicely observed drama with rounded, sympathetic characters (except for the thinly drawn Hreinn), Agnes Joy entertains well enough but doesn’t have a great deal more to contribute. it’s a solid enough piece of work and only the second film from director Silja Hauksdóttir, so one hopes that its success will prompt her to try something more ambitious next time round.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2020
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Mother-daughter drama sees the fractious pair face a challenge when a new neighbour turns up on their doorstep.

Festivals:

Glasgow 2020

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