Three sets of characters play unhappy families in “Parents,” the second collaboration between Icelandic helmer Ragnar Bragason and legit troupe Vesturport. Like its predecessor, “Children,” pic has a melancholy feel that matches its fine monochrome lensing. Thankfully, the occasional splash of comedy and quality thesping turns this crisscrosser into above-average fare. Fact that “Parents” is currently touring fest circuit with “Children” suggests makers hope to market the diptych to specialist buyers, like Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Pusher” films or Lucas Belvaux’s “Trilogy,” but the duo’s low-key, downbeat tone is likely to spawn fewer sales than the aforementioned cycles.
Where “Children” focused mostly on characters from Reykjavik’s meaner streets, the milieu of “Parents” is largely middle-class or even well-to-do. Inspired by the working methods of Mike Leigh and others, helmer and cast workshopped the scripts during pre-production, and both films focus thematically on families and are visually of a piece. However, while major characters from “Children” pop up as very minor ones in “Parents,” there’s hardly any plot overlap.
Strongest story here concerns good-hearted dentist Oskar Sveinn (Ingvar E. Sigurthsson, “Cold Light”). Married to Erna (Jona Gudrun Jonsdottir) and stepdad to her two kids, Oskar longs to father a child of his own. A visit to the hospital reveals there’s nothing wrong with Oskar’s potency, but fortysomething Erna keeps insisting she’s too old.
Meanwhile, Oskar’s new receptionist Katrin Rose (Nanna Kristin Magnusdottir) has just returned to Iceland after years of living abroad; it’s hinted that she may have a shady past. Now she wants to reconnect with her 11-year-old son, Baldur (Petur Rognvaldsson), but her mother (Lilja Guthrun Thorvaldsdottir), who’s been taking care of Baldur, constantly disses Katrin’s parenting skills.
Finally, stockbroker Einar Birgir (Vikingur Kristjansson) is in denial about the fact that his marriage to Halla (Thruthur Vilhjalmsdottir) is over, even though he’s been living in a hotel room for two months.
Where “Children” made more use of realistically rendered violence, pain in “Parents” is more emotional than physical. Pic’s biggest fireworks are generated by arguments producing acute embarrassment rather than bloodshed. Consequently, film’s overall lack of big statements or high drama may leave some auds shrugging indifferently.
Nevertheless, there’s a touch of a healing balm in the last reel, suggesting at least two lives may not be so quietly desperate from now on. Comic moments lighten the gloomy plot load, as when Oskar, at tether’s end, deliberately runs his car over some nasty neighborhood kid’s bike.
The cool elegance of Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson’s pencil-gray lensing is counterweighted by the wiggly, handheld feel throughout, and tech credits are above par for what’s evidently a very low budget. Transfer to 35mm on print caught was outright excellent.