Comedy to open film festival

The delightful deadpan comedy “O’Horten” from Norwegian helmer-scribe Bent Hamer will open the fifth Reykjavik Intl. Film Festival (RIFF) on Thursday. The highly visual mood piece follows an ultra-dedicated locomotive engineer uneasily transitioning into retirement and shows the absurdist situations he encounters when parted from the world of printed timetables and pre-ordained station stops.

Unspooling until Oct. 5 in the Icelandic capital, a hot bed of the world music scene, the fest will include a conference on the relationship between films and music called Sound on Sight. Reps of Universal Music, VH1, Zentropa, Naive Soundtracks, Spitfire Pictures, Sigur Ros and Bob Dylan are expected to participate.

One of the hot tickets from the Sound on Sight program will be a special concert where Icelandic band Hjaltalin premieres its score to “Sons of the Soil” (1920), directed by Gunnar Sommerfeldt, the first film ever shot in Iceland. It is based on the novel by Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarsson.

Hjaltalin is considered Iceland’s most progressive pop group today, seamlessly integrating classical instrumentation with pop palettes as heard on its breakthrough single “Goodbye July.” Its debut album “Sleepdrunk Seasons” was released late last year to positive reviews and strong sales.

Since its launch in 2004, the fest has earned a reputation for dynamic programming, combining the New Visions competition for first and second features with timely thematic sidebars and retrospectives of important auteurs.

Among the 14 New Visions titles competing for Discovery of the Year in the form of fest’s Golden Puffin award are the Isabelle Huppert starrer “Home” from Switzerland’s Ursula Meier; fantasy thriller “Tale 52″ from Greece’s Alexis Alexiou; disaffected teen drama “Afterschool” from American Antonio Campos; and “Soar,” a metaphysical look at a plane crash from Russia’s Alexander Mindadze.

“A Zona” by Sandro Aguilar competes for Portugal alongside touching documentary “Blind Loves” from Slovenian Juraj Lehotsky; “Before Tomorrow,” Inuit tales by Canada’s Arnait Video Collective; austere biblical epic “Birdsong” by Catalan Alberto Serra; rural Indian comedy “Wild Bull” from Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni; and latter-day film noir “Zift” from Bulgaria’s Javor Gardev.

Rounding out the category are Kafkaesque prison nightmare “Without Mercy” from Hungary’s Elemar Ragaly; ensembler “Cold Lunch” by Norway’s Eva Sorhaug; femme-centered post-war Bosnian drama “Snow” from Aida Begic; and “Tulpan,” Sergei Dvortsevoy’s portrait of life on the Kazakh steppe.

Jurors for the competition include Canadian actress Arsinee Khanjian, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, Faroese helmer Katrin Ottarsdottir, Icelandic actress Margret Vihjalmsdottir and Icelandic documaker Arto Halonen.

RIFF’s topical sidebar emphasizes environmental issues, slotting documentaries such as “Flow — For the Love of Water” by Irena Salina, “About Water: People and Yellow Cans” by Udo Maurer, and “Garbage Warrior” by Oliver Hodge, that have the ability to influence people’s behavior and political policy. Argentina provides the national cinema focus.

Select retrospectives will spotlight world cinema auteur Constantin Costa Gavras, master of the political thriller and recipient of the fest’s lifetime achievement award, and acclaimed Iranian film and video artist Shirin Neshat, who will receive the creative excellence award.

The screening program of 87 pics from 27 countries also includes a lively selection of new features and documentaries as well as sidebars on midnight movies and films for youths.

For the third year, Reykjavik will offer a talent campus to help young filmmakers make the jump from shorts to features. Guest lecturers will include Danish director and thesp Paprika Steen, French helmer-scribe Philippe Claudel, Finnish documaker Arto Halonen and Icelandic helmer Dagur Kari Petursson.

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