Virgin Mountain snagged three awards at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival: Best Narrative film, Best Screenplay and a Best Actor award for protagonist, Gunnar Jonsson. Written and directed by Icelandic filmmaker Daru Kari and produced by the more famous Baltasar Kormaku, this offbeat drama, tells the story of Fúsi, a reclusive overweight 43 year old man-child who still lives at home with his mother. Fusi is socially awkward and set in his ways – his pastimes include playing with toy cars, recreating the Battle of El Alamein using his vast figurine collection and eating pad thai at the same restaurant every Friday.
When his pushy mother, brilliantly played by Margret Helga Johannsdottir, forces him to join a line dancing class, he meets an outgoing blonde (Ilmur Krisjansdottir). Sjofn pushes all the right buttons and the routine-oriented gentle giant leaves the safety of his lonely world and slowly falls in love. Fusi who is used to suppressed emotions seems contented – his big heart ruling his head. But alas, not your fluff romantic comedy, Sjofn, a garbage woman with dreams of owning her own flower shop, suddenly retreats and her depressive and fragile side is revealed. With a wintry setting to match, poor Fusi who just came in from the cold to become a real person, is now experiencing the vagaries of a complicated relationship.
Better known as a TV comedian in Iceland, Jonsson turns out a brilliant and believable lead performance. His perfectly cast co-star, Ilmur Kristjansdottir, is equally engaging as a garbage worker with a dark side. We find ourselves rooting for this mismatched couple and that’s what’s great about the film; eschewing cynicism or sentiment in favor of humanism. The film is also able to touch on bigotry, Fusi, a baggage handler at an airport, is subjected to emotional abuse about his weight from co-workers. Although, generally light weight, the film also explores mental illness, isolation and cruel stereotyping especially when Fusi is accused of being a child molester.
Notable performances from supporting cast members include, Margret Helga Johannsdottir, who delivers a solid performance as his concerned mother who wants him to get a life. Child actor Franziska Una Dagsdottir is one to watch as the curious 8 year old with whom Fusi can easily relate.
Overall Virgin Mountain is a small film with potential for a big impact. With its subtle structure and sharply observed characters, the end result is moving film that taps into human empathy.