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— [?] as some scientist, Face/Off

MRQE Top Critic

The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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This bleak portrait of isolation is deliberately disengaging. And while the movie is effective at what it sets out to do, it’s hard to love it for its success. The DVD from Palm Pictures makes the ambivalence even stronger. The director goes on-camera to explain his goals, and in doing so, doesn’t explain anything. Rather than frustrating audiences, I think he beguiles them, making Nói Albinoi better on a second viewing.

The Movie

Noi decides to drive to Hawaii
Noi decides to drive to Hawaii
DVD features amplify the ambivalence in this Icelandic isolation epic
DVD features amplify the ambivalence in this Icelandic isolation epic

Set in a small town in Iceland (in winter, no less), Nói Albinoi is a meditation on loneliness and isolation.

Its main character, Nói, is an only child living with his grandmother. He may not be a true albino, but people with the opposite personality would be described as “colorful.” He is a blank slate, and people can project any traits they like onto him. For example, some say he’s dumb because he does poorly in school, while other assume he’s a genius bored with his classes. We never really know for sure.

We can sympathize with Nói, but there’s always a coolness, always a distance. We want him to do well, but not because he’s engaged us emotionally, only because we sympathize. We probably don’t want to be his friend, but we want him to have one.

His maddening boredom culminates with him stealing a car and inviting a girl — apparently the only one in town — to run away with him, although where he thinks he’s going in a car, in Iceland, in the winter, is mystifying. When the cops catch him, they put him in isolation.

Given Nói’s own acute sense of isolation, is this a particularly cruel punishment, or just another day in his life? After all, his favorite retreat is the small, dark cellar under his grandma’s house. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that his dream place, Hawaii, is also an island, populated by a single brown-skinned native (according to his ViewMaster). Maybe Noi’s isolation is so deeply rooted that he can’t even fantasize about losing it.

DVD Extras

This Palm Pictures release has three extra features: a making-of featurette, three deleted scenes (introduced by the director), and a trailer for the U.S. theatrical release.

The deleted scenes are better than most, and the director’s comments about them are intelligent. One of them pegged Nói as a genius. Director Dagur Kári Petursson saw that this would remove the ambiguity about Nói, that he wouldn’t be a blank slate anymore, and he cut the scene. Another scene was cut because it was too long, and once again it was the right decision. But the scene is much more interesting than most DVD deleted scenes because it reveals quite a bit about the main character. In it, Nói is picked up for drunk driving, and he stalls the authorities so masterfully that by the time they can get a needle in him, the alcohol has worn off.

The featurette is mostly an interview with director Petursson, who explains the film no better than most critics did. He describes the movie and some of his stylistic choices, but he doesn’t reveal much about the why. He said he wanted to create a story about an “alien among us” without saying why that fascinates him. He tells us that Nói is more mature than his father, that their roles are reversed, but never says why that was important to this film.

One piece of Petursson’s personality does manage to sneak through, though when he explains that he’d rather hear an amateur piano player — someone who plays out of tune in their parlor for the joy of it — than to hear a master performing Rachmaninoff in concert. That’s a sentiment I can agree with and that Petursson’s humble film illustrates pretty well.

Picture and Sound

As Petursson explains in one of the DVD interviews, the sound is almost entirely monaural to heighten that sense of isolation. And so the DVD is not going to blow away your neighbors or impress your technophile friends. And the color is not naturalistic, but rather tinted blue-green, so it’s hard to measure how well-timed the digital color is. Certainly the picture quality is very good, although the print is not pristine. There are scratches and dust, but they are barely noticeable.