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Published January 31st, 2008 | by Mike Barnard

Jar City Review

Classification: 15 Director: Baltasar Kormakur Rating: 3.5/5

Icelandic films have a habit of being unrelentlessly gloomy. Perhaps it’s just the way life is over there, but Jar City follows the trend with just the sort of bleak setting you would expect. A cop with a prostitute for a daughter, a man mourning the death of his young girl and a mysterious murder are not the happiest of elements and set against the unwelcoming backdrop of a small town community riddled with dirty secrets its tough viewing. However, out of the unforgiving Icelandic landscape this murder mystery proves compelling in its depiction of an old cop on the trail of a killing leading to the revelation of more truths than he could imagine.

Iceland Inspector Erlendur (Siggurossom) is a weathered cop. He’s been in the force for years and has that cold look about him – not least because criminals can taunt him about his daughter Eva (Erlendsdottir) working the streets. Arriving at a crime scene, he finds a man dead in a basement flat and a solitary clue: the photograph of a girl’s grave. While visiting the locals trying to ascertain the circumstances of the murder, he finds the location of the grave and encounters a woman who gives him only the name of a retired police official to go on who may be the link to what happened. Meanwhile, Orn (Sigursson) is mourning the death of his four-year-old daughter who was lost to a rare congenital disease and searching for the cause which leads the two men’s stories to collide. The two narrative strand style is a common trick employed to generate more mystery than there really is in a movie, but Jar City’s blunt take on human relationships torn apart by deceit and crime makes for compelling, if harsh, viewing.

Erlender has the stern look of a tired old detective worn down by the negativity he sees in his daily work and lack of respect he finds from his daughter. Although a man hard to like, he provides the respected character you might want everyone to be but know that is impossible. The assortment of community outcasts he meets all have their secrets to be extracted somehow, with writer/director Kormakur keen to lead him through a history of corruption of human morals. It’s made more eye-opening as the incidents are so far in the past, the perpetrators are now elderly and seem detached from the actions they once performed.

Despite the gloom, Erlender’s young partner Sigurour Oli (Haraldsson) provides light relief at the most unexpected times. A lead puts him in the awkward position of asking grannies whether they were raped in the 1970s, and amid the ghastly subject matter his worrying as he sits in the car en route to the first interviewee of countless others is strangely comic. Moments of laughter are few and far between, however, as Jar City enters even darker territory for a dramatic close. There is little to smile about and the look of this detective thriller is never far from depressingly desolate, yet it is these aspects which make Jar City such a chilling insight into police work and the dramatic action taken by people placed under duress whether it is through power or emotions.

AKA Myrin

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