×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Virgin Mountain’

Icelandic director Dagur Kari's Tribeca prizewinner traces the slow, careful emergence of a gentle giant of a man who falls in love.

Fusi, the hero of Icelandic director Dagur Kari’s fourth feature, is, to quote the cliche, a mountain of a man. Indeed, he is the virgin mountain of the title: Fat, 43 and still living with his mother, he incarnates the sad-sack sweet guy for which Ernest Borgnine’s Marty could serve as the prototype. Working in small, skillfully nuanced, always surprising increments, Kari, enabled by Gunnar Jonsson’s extraordinary performance, charts a moving, totally believable flowering of untapped potential as Fusi falls in love. Winner of the top prize and an acting award at Tribeca, “Virgin Mountain” could shine in arthouse play.

Fusi (Gunnar Jonsson) has created a safe, unchanging, extremely limited world for himself. Working as a baggage handler at the airport, he returns home to re-create the battle of El Alamein on his work table with the help of his only friend, Rolf (Arnar Jonsson). Nothing disturbs the peace of Fusi’s routine: He eats the same pad thai at the same restaurant every Friday, whiel the purchase of an action figure or a motorized toy tank barely produces a ripple in the sameness of his days. His mother (Margret Helga Johannsdottir) seems invested in keeping him at home to stave off loneliness and help around the house.

Fusi’s rare forays outside his comfort zone tend to backfire. A co-worker’s invitation to a paintball excursion ends in a humiliating encounter with a prostitute, and Fusi’s friendship with a neighbor’s little girl (Franziska Una Dagsdottir), one who is unfortunately starved for attention, raises unfounded specters of perversion.

Fusi absorbs rejection, bullying and ridicule as his norm, while genuine acceptance produces shock, uncertainty and a blind wait for the other shoe to drop. He seems fated for an absurd life of Kaurismakian pathos, or the sudden receipt of some kind of miraculous makeover. What he receives instead is a birthday gift of line-dancing lessons delivered with salacious commentary and a cowboy hat by his mother’s live-in lover (Sigurjon Kjartansson). Against all odds, even while fervently trying to avoid his lessons, Fusi manages to meet a vivacious blonde and begins to do for her what he could never accomplish or even wish for himself.

The chances of said blonde finding Fusi attractive in return seem slim to none. But, as it turns out, Sjofn (Ilmur Kristjansdottir) is no poster child of social integration; her cheery outlook and open acceptance masks a darker, crippling, more depressive side. Indeed Sjofn’s neediness, damaged soul and true appreciation of Fusi’s gentle goodness balance the romantic equation and grant their friendship a safety net and healing power that may not promise happily-ever-after closure, but sure opens a lot of doors.

The lead couple’s acting styles inventively complement each other, even visually: Jonsson’s Fusi, used to hiding his emotions, often requires extreme closeups in order to read the subtle “tells” by which he expresses his feelings, while Kristjansdottir’s Sjofn, customarily voicing every thought that passes through her mind, fairly radiates intense joy or pain.

To a certain extent, it’s difficult to write about a humanistic offering like “Virgin Mountain” without sounding goopy or piously uplifting; delicacy of touch can be hard to describe if the approach is even marginally upbeat. But there are no false notes here, and the most resonant moments proceed with a brisk matter-of-factness that is satisfying in itself.

More Film

  • Berlin Awarded 'Tess' Sells to Multiple

    Berlin Awarded 'Tess' Sells to Multiple Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based sales agent Picture Tree Intl. has sold Steven Wouterlood’s coming-of-age film “My Extraordinary Summer with Tess,” which received a Special Mention from the jury of Berlin Film Festival’s Generation KPlus section, to distributors in several territories. Among the buyers are Les Films Du Preau in France, Proview Entertainment in Taiwan, Angel Films in Denmark, [...]

  • China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches

    China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches $557 Million in Second Week

    The winning films from Chinese New Year remained on top of the Chinese box office in their second normal weekend of release. Locally-made sci-fi film “The Wandering Earth” advanced its score to $557 million. “Wandering Earth” earned $88.8 million between Friday and Monday, according to data from Asian film industry consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was [...]

  • Nuno Beato’s ‘My Grandfather’ Part of

    ‘My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons’ Marks Sardinha em Lata’s Animation Build

    Portuguese animator-producer-director Nuno Beato, whose credits include “Emma & Gui,” “Híssis” and the multi-prized “My Life In Your Hands,” will pitch a new project, currently in development, “My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons” at Bordeaux’s upcoming Cartoon Movie, the leading European animated feature forum. Cartoon Movie runs March 5-7. Related Apollo Theater Documentary [...]

  • DF-10193 – L-R: Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor),

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Leads MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Sound Editing

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” followed up love from Cinema Audio Society sound mixers with a pair of honors at the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ 66th annual Golden Reel Awards Sunday night. The musical biopic scored wins for dialogue and ADR as well as sound editing in a musical. The film is nominated for sound editing at the Oscars [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" in

    Writers Guild Makes It Official: This Is the Most Wide-Open Oscars Race Ever

    For the record, we’re in uncharted territory this Oscar season. While we still have the costume designers’ ceremony to get through on Tuesday, the Writers Guild Awards put a bow on the major guild kudos circuit Sunday night. The results have yielded what is, unequivocally, the most wide-open Oscar field in history. Related Apollo Theater [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” The major television trophies went to “The Americans,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Homeland” and “Barry” for the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' No Match for China's 'Wandering Earth' Overseas

    Hollywood movies like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” are doing respectable business overseas, but they’re proving no match for foreign titles at the international box office. The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content