A dark and often unrelentingly violent look at a group of dysfunctional people in Reykjavik, “Children” makes tough but compelling viewing. Shot in stylized B&W, sophomore pic by writer-director Ragnar Bragason will travel nicely along the fest circuit with commercial stops at some arthouses along the way. It’s the Icelandic entry for Oscar’s foreign-language category.
Gardar (Gisli Orn Gardarsson) is a young underworld enforcer in Reykjavik who’s gotten tired of his job. After beating his own employers senseless, he decides to do something right for once: find his teenage son, Gudmund (Andri Snaer Helgason), and try to make things right between them.
Gudmund lives with his mother, Karitas (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir), and his three young sisters in a rundown apartment. Now divorced from the girls’ father — who’s remarried and wants custody of them — Karitas is hard up for money and peddles drugs she’s stolen from the hospital she works in.
Gudmund’s only friend is Marino (Olafur Darri Olafsson), a schizophrenic in his early 30s who lives with his mother in the same apartment block as Karitas and her family. When Marino finds out his mom is dating a stranger, his behavior grows more and more weird.
Marino takes a special dislike to Gardar when the latter comes to see Gudmund. And when Karitas sees Gardar, she turns hysterical. But Gardar and Gudmund start seeing each other in secret, leading to a series of increasingly tragic events capped by a kind of happy ending.
Inspired by Mike Leigh’s working methods, Bragason and his cast collaborated in creating the characters and story. Though the pic resembles Bragason’s first, “Fiasco” (2000), in its episodic structure, “Children” has a much more satisfying feel, both in the roundness of the characters and in the twists and turns of the story. These are people not quite at the bottom of society, but pretty darned close; for most of them, the actions they take to survive only make things worse.
Low-budgeter’s choice of shooting in B&W was a happy one, as the often stylized photography by Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson adds to the constant feeling of looming catastrophe. Reykjavik has never been shown like this before.
The movie’s violence is swift and brutal, done in a way that really shows, for example, how much a broken nose can hurt. Tech credits are fine.