When the going gets weird, the weird turn political in “Gnarr,” a sociopolitical-comedy docu about comic Jon Gnarr’s run for mayor of Reykjavik in the wake of the Icelandic economic meltdown. Pic’s exposure will be limited, due to helmer Gaukur Ulfarsson’s seat-of-the-pants style and the idiosyncratic nature of Icelandic humor (“The odds of you being in Reykjavik are not great,” Gnarr says. “The greatest part of mankind is elsewhere. It is scientifically proven … “). But as a portrait of a recession-plagued world-in-microcosm, it has plenty to say.
Gnarr’s humor, which is not for everyone and doesn’t always translate as effectively as perhaps it should, strives to offend more delicate sensibilities. One of his more provocative pieces of comedy is the mock record album “Adolf Hitler: No Regrets,” in which Der Fuehrer, more or less, impersonates Edith Piaf. As a comic and a politician, Gnarr is an anarchist. He says potential officeholders should be judged on whether or not they’ve seen all five seasons of “The Wire.” He establishes the Best Party, the motto of which is “Hooray for all kinds of things!” (His campaign re-records Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” as an Icelandic anthem.) A major plank in Gnarr’s platform calls for the immediate creation of a Reykjavik Disneyland. He starts out at 13% in the polls, and the number grows.
Is “Gnarr” a cautionary tale? Both Gnarr and helmer Ulfarsson — who stitched the film together from news clips, Skype interviews and guerrilla-style footage, without narration or outside commentary — are clearly making the point that disillusionment, and even disgust, with the circumstances of the 2008 economic collapse has suffused the entire world. That’s especially true of Iceland, where an elitist economic structure made bailouts particularly galling to the average citizen. CNBC may not want to air “Gnarr,” but it does have something to say about the financial state of the world and how far a populace can be pushed before it embraces absurdity — and even votes for it.
Much of the joy of the film is the relentless irritation Gnarr causes the “serious” politicians of Reykjavik, who really don’t know how to deal with him: They can’t possibly match him for silliness, but they can’t take too high a road, either, for fear of being pegged as snobs. Gnarr thoroughly disrupts the public conversation in Reykjavik, and it’s impressive how he stays in character and maintains his shtick. It’s as if Stephen Colbert were running for president, which, given the current climate, doesn’t seem a long shot.
Production values are adequate to the verite feel Ulfarsson is trying to evoke.