'Paris of the North' Helmer Hafsteinn

Arizona Films boards Icelandic helmer’s follow up to Karlovy Vary competition entry

Having seen his debut remade by David Gordon Green as “Prince Avalanche,” Iceland’s Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson is prepping “Kanari” to follow-up Karlovy Vary competition player “Paris of the North.”

“Prince Avalanche” won a best director 2013 Berlin Silver Bear. Sigurdsson himself was selected as one of Variety’s 10 European Directors To Watch at the 2012 Karlovy Vary showcase.

Unveiled as the 10th Sofia Meetings in March 2013, where it won the Best Pitching Award in the Second Films section, “Kanari” is now set up as a co-production between London’s Flickbook Films, Iceland’s Kjartannson and France’s Arizona Films.

Sigurdsson will seek to tie down a German co-producer at Karlovy Vary, completing “Kanari’s” international co-production structure, he said.

“Kanari” has already pulled down development coin from the Icelandic Film Center. Sigurdsson will apply for a production grant from the IFC with a view to shooting in 2015.

Penned by Sigurdsson, and now near to a final draft, comedy-drama “Kanari” turns on a man who lives a quiet contented life with his girlfriend in Iceland until she moves abroad to pursue her studies. That creates one big problem: the man suffers acute pteromerhanophobia – a fear of flying. He attends a psychiatric group-counseling course whose graduation trip, a flight to Germany, naturally becomes a total nightmare. Hit by severe turbulence, it leaves the man and his fellow sufferers stuck in a post-traumatic shock at Dusseldorf Airport.

“But on the trip, the man discovers important things about himself, his relationship, and fear of flight becomes a metaphor for following your own instinct,” Sigurdsson told Variety on the eve of Karlovy Vary.

The titular “Kanari,” Icelandic for Canary, began referring to the island but now refers more to the bird, he added.

“Kanari” will be “more of a comedy” than “Paris of the North” and “turns in part on the group dynamics which develop among the quite colorful characters on board,” Sigurdsson added.

The comedy in “Paris of the North” is by comparison “subtle, dry humor.”

Written by Huldar Breidfjord, the scribe of Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s “Niceland (Population 1,000,002),” “Paris” world premieres at Karlovy Vary on Tuesday.

In “Paris,” Sigurdsson returns to a dramedic rural Iceland set in a mouldering one-horse fishing village, total population 150, in Iceland’s North-West, in the middle of nowhere and on a promontory, dwarfed by a towering volcanic bluff, the imposing Thornfinnur.

That provides asylum from city life for Hugi (Bjorn Thors, seen in Baltasar Kormakur’s “Deep”) an ex-alcoholic who teaches at the village school, jogs frantically around the village time and again – scenes that capture his un-channeled energy and lack of direction –- attends AA meetings, befriends a 10-year-old boy, Albert, whose looking for a father figure, and takes Portuguese lessons online, with the vague idea of reconciliation with his ex-g.f., who now lives in Portugal.

But Hugi’s balance is shattered when his estranged father (Icelandic rock singer-actor Heigi Bjornsson, with a wonderfully lived-in face), who’s dysfunctional without a six-pack, often dysfunctional with one, washes up in the village, back from running a bar in Thailand.

“‘Paris of the North” is a dramatic comedy about possible and impossible family ties. It is also an exploration of distances in human relationships — especially the ones that should feel very close — and about the crisis of masculinity,” Sigurdsson said.

From its set-up, “Paris of the North” appears to be about to unspool as accessible mainstream drama, laced with understated comedy, turning on Hugi’s finding his place in the world. But “Paris of the North” — and life, Sigurdsson suggests — often confounds simple dramatic set-ups in its multiple contradictions.

Characters commit acts slightly too perfidious for mainstream comedy. They can make wise statements. “When you’ve traveled the world and met a lot of people, you realize they’re all the same. Then you start to want to go home,” says Hugi’s father when he finally wises up with his son.

“It’s just that after a while, you don’t know where home is. You’re so far away and you can’t find your way back,” he adds.

But events belie the father’s disorientation.

“Paris of the North’s” characters “are not always so pleasant as the conventions of screenwriters require of them. I’m particularly interested in the place between the mainstream and arthouse,” Sigurdsson said.

Galvanizing a film that uses long, static takes, often in interiors, Icelandic indie-rock group Prins Polo provides the soundtrack as Hugi jogs around his village. Albert’s dad, who fronts the village band (whose music is really Prins Polo playback), is as talented a musician as he is hopeless as a father. The village is as drab as Thornfinnur is bewitching in its beauty.

“‘It’s a sad and beautiful world’ is a great line from a great film in the ‘80s – and very descriptive of the tone of ‘Paris of the North,’” Sigurdsson concluded.

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