Friday, January 4

And Breathe Normally Review




Director: Ísold Uggadóttir
Starring: Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Babetida Sadjo & Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson

AND BREATHE NORMALLY (Andið Eðlilega) is the Icelandic debut feature from Ísold Uggadóttir. But this isn’t the Iceland that most Americans imagine when we think of the picturesque island. It takes place in the industrial districts, shopping malls and shipping yards. The screen’s 2:35 ratio is filled by muted hues of the grayish blues and greens of the windswept landscapes and dilapidated structures.

We are introduced to Lára (Haraldsdóttir) a recovering addict and mother clinging to the edge of poverty by the string of government assistance when she is hired as a border security agent. The airport we see her working in is one of the few splashes of modernism as a set that we see. But her ends refuse to meet each other and very quickly, she and her young son (Pétursson) find themselves homeless and hungry, anxiously awaiting her first paycheck.

It’s in her first day of the job that we are introduced to Adja (Sadjo), a young woman seeking asylum from Guinea-Bissau. She is arrested at the checkpoint after attempting to use a fake passport on her way to Canada. It is in her story that we see more glimpses of an Iceland with a strong economy. The immigration courts and the offices of her case workers are looked at as a different world. She is quickly brought back down to Earth when she arrives at the temporary housing as she awaits her asylum case.

Both leads give powerful and convincing performances and together the contrast of the two personalities do well to balance the overall tone of the film. Lára’s frantic and manic paced movements and expressions are rudderless and at times, reckless. While Adja manages to face her fate with dignity and calm. And the way they eventually connect with each other over their similarities gives the relationship an equilibrium rather than a dichotomy.

The first half of this film is a rather interesting comparison of the two women’s somewhat parallel situations. Adja is risking her freedom in order to seek refuge from a country that persecutes those of her sexuality. Similarly, Lára is living as a refugee of her own economic situation. Both are holding their breaths, their destinies unknown and largely out of their control. I’m not completely sure what this contrast was supposed to be expressing or if it was fleshed out as well as it could have been. But, at least in the film’s first half, the trials and tribulations of our characters felt heavy and real.

It’s unfortunate however, that the halfway point is about when this film’s story begins to fall apart. The plot seems to heavily rely on outlandish coincidences in order to move forward. This happens in movies. A lot of films are just reasons to tell improbable and outlandish stories. But when this is done in a film that is clearly established in a gritty and realistic world, it tends to undercut its weight.

I’m going to end up a little more positive than negative for this film. For all of its flaws, it
was composed with the sure-hand that is not expected to be found in a first film. Its problems exist solely in its screenplay, and it likely could have been resolved with a few extra drafts. Its overall message is one of empathy and that’s something that we should be championing.

Emery's Rating
3 out of 5 Stars

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