Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Actors: Baltasar Kormakur (Finner), Hera Hilmer (Anna), and Gisli Orn Gardarsson (Ottar)
This film from Iceland (with English subtitles) was my favorite drama from the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival. Even without English subtitles on the trailer, you can tell it is thrilling. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, who also directed the Hollywood films “Everest”, ‘Contraband” and “2 Guns,” this action-packed story of a successful heart surgeon battling to save his daughter from drug addiction and the influence of a sleazy drug dealer boyfriend was well-paced, well-written, shot and edited beautifully (cinematography by Ottar Gudnason) and shows why “Variety” pegged Kormakur as an up-and-comer.
I became aware of the wonderful films coming out of Iceland at a previous film festival while watching one about the explosion of crystal meth in the country; the title was something like “Black Ice,” although I cannot find any mention of it on IMDB. Born in Rekjavik (Iceland) Variety selected Baltasar Kormakur, (son of Baltasar Samper, a famous Icelandic artist) as one of the “10 Directors to Watch,” along with Alejandro González Iñárritu, Lukas Moodysson, Christopher Nolan and other newcomers.
Korrakur not only wrote, directed, and produced this film, he plays the lead role of a skilled heart surgeon (Finnur) who has a wife and two daughters. Finnur is not unique in having to deal with the effect of a headstrong older daughter (Anna, played by Hera Hilmer) who is past the age of 18 and, therefore, can make decisions that are detrimental to her health and well-being, which Anna does repeatedly.
Finnur—who has so much success in the operating room saving people’s lives—thinks through several logical ways of getting Ottar (Gisli Orn Gardarsson), the bad boyfriend, out of Anna’s life forever. He tries the obvious: paying him off. He tries the less obvious (short of murder), and that is when things go south.
Even when Finnur seems to have been successful in removing the threat that Ottar posed to Anna, you wonder if he has lost his daughter forever. The legal implications of the route Finnur ultimately chooses (or the route that chooses him) are left up-in-the-air, which gave the film a nice ambiguity of ending.
Kormakur has already acquired a compound in Iceland, since his interests are so far-ranging, running from theater to television to acting/writing/directing of film. He has also helmed at least 3 Hollywood movies with stars like Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington. He is quoted as saying that he can conceive of working outside of Iceland. Said Kormakur, “It doesn’t matter where my movies are set. Right now, I have a script that’s set in Canada and is in English. Just because I was born on the island [Iceland] doesn’t mean I want to spend the rest of my life telling stories for 300,000 people. It helps that I’m half-Spanish, because the market I can reach is much bigger.” He added of his homeland (Iceland): “The winters are too long, and there’s only one airline, so it’s difficult to escape when you feel frustrated or claustrophobic. The audience for our films isn’t very large, so it’s difficult to support an industry. But, Iceland is beautiful. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.”
I was on the edge of my seat for this one, and I shall look for this director’s work in the future. Since he speaks Icelandic, English, Spanish and Danish and has already directed films starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg (among others), I am hoping for films that go beyond just the 300,000 person audience in Iceland. His work certainly deserves a wider audience.
The Oath was a winner from start to finish.