A taut police procedural that craftily blends ripped-from-the-headlines genetic issues with foreboding Icelandic stoicism, “Jar City” reps a supremely confident stride into mass-appeal genre fare for Icelandic hyphenate Baltasar Kormakur. Already the country’s most successful local production, pic reps a refreshingly commercial change-of-pace for fests, could be bottled in any market where crime sells and is a natural for ancillary.
Celebrated Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indridason’s 2000 novel “Tainted Blood,” which was initially translated into English under the moniker “Jar City,” follows weary cop Erlendur (played by Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) as he struggles to link the mysterious 1974 death of a little girl to the recent murder of a reclusive lowlife. “A typical Icelandic murder,” he sighs. “Messy and pointless.”
Common thread unravels via a national genetics database, hacked by Orn (Atli Rafn Sigurdarson), a dad distraught at the death of his own daughter. As the methodical Erlendur tracks down leads with fellow investigators Oli (Bjorn Hylnur Haraldsson) and Elinborg (Olafia Hronn Jonsdottir), he also grapples with the drug addiction of pregnant daughter Eva Lind (Agusta Eva Erlendsdottir).
Kormakur’s no-nonsense approaches dispenses with any reverence toward characters that have captured the Icelandic imagination, instead favoring a gimlet-eyed look at the messiness of crime and the straight-ahead practicality employed to solve them. A hot-button issue at the time of the tome’s publication, the genomic research angle adds another satisfying layer of mystery to the already twisted trail of linkages.
Tech package is impressive, with widescreen lensing equal parts grit and glow. Pic was released locally mid-October 2006, and subsequently swept local Edda awards with prizes for music, director, actor (Sigurdsson), supporting actor (Sigurdarson) and film. Estimated 100,000 admissions to date reps a third of Iceland’s total population.