Capsule Movie Review: Virgin Mountain (2015)

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Virgin Mountain (Fúsi)

Dramatic Comedy | 93 Minutes | 2015 | Iceland

* * * *

Fúsi (Gunnar Jónsson) is forty-three years old and a virgin, still living at home with his mother. He spends his days working as a baggage handler at Keflavik airport, his evenings wargaming with his friend Mörður (Sigurjón Kjartansson), as together they painstakingly recreate the Battle of El Alamein, and each Friday he orders Pad Thai and eats cloistered in the same corner of the same restaurant. His overbearing mother Fjóla (Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir) keeps him around to stave off loneliness and help with the housework, and although Fúsi is mostly well liked – appreciated by his manager at the airport, and on first-name terms with the owner of the Thai place – the only break in the monotony of his life comes when he suffers spurts of abuse from three coworkers.

Then two things happen: a young girl called Hera (Franziska Una Dagsdóttir), who lives with her father in an apartment on the floor below, starts to see Fúsi as someone she can bond with over dolls and other toys; and Fjóla’s lover Rolf (Arnar Jónsson), largely for the sake of some amorous alone time, enrolls Fúsi in a line dancing class as a birthday present. When Fúsi obliges Hera by taking her out for ice cream, the police are called and he gains a reputation as the local paedophile, while at the first line dancing session he peers briefly inside only to retreat to the safety of his car. Yet Fúsi’s tentative steps do not go altogether unrewarded. In the rain, a line dancing classmate asks him for a lift, and despite his weight and reserve, and her relative prettiness and an ostensibly carefree, outgoing disposition, Sjöfn (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir) and Fúsi fire up a relationship.

Gunnar Jónsson is one of Iceland’s eminent comic actors, and he appears to have a proclivity for cow produce: the poster for Virgin Mountain shows him clutching a glass of milk, his moustache covered with the white stuff, and it was in a similar guise that Jónsson appeared in the wildly successful series Naeturvaktin, where his character routinely enjoyed a late-night meal of hot dog with cream. Dagur Kári, the director of Virgin Mountain, returning to Icelandic for the first time since 2003’s Noi the Albino – after 2005’s Dark Horse, which was in Danish, and 2009’s The Good Heart, in English and starring Brian Cox and Paul Dano – seems happy to make the reference, with Franziska Una Dagsdóttir, Arnar Jónsson, and Sigurjón Kjartansson all featuring in Naeturvaktin or its counterparts, up to and including the record-breaking Mr. Bjarnfreðarson.

Virgin Mountain is much gentler than Naeturvaktin and company, but it offers a similar blend of farcical comedy and pathetic isolation. Fúsi is an unkempt giant whose heart of gold has only been hiding, but eschewing Hollywood’s tendency to make women ciphers for male development, the appearance of Sjöfn offers no easy course. For a start, she tells Fúsi she just wants to be friends, before withdrawing entirely from the relationship, forcing Fúsi to break into her home where he finds her locked in a closet, severely and grubbily depressed. Twists like these make for a couple of compelling character portraits, and though the film never quite loses its sweetness, there is enough about Virgin Mountain to distinguish it from conventional light comic fare: revealing more than the sensitivity behind his doughy eyes, Fúsi emerges as intelligent, impressively thick skinned, and intuitively full of courage.

After all, even if they are not going to live and love, Fúsi and Sjöfn have still needed each other. Virgin Mountain won Best Narrative Feature at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, while Gunnar Jónsson took home the prize for Best Actor in a Narrative Feature, the jury remarking ‘The film was aided in no small measure by a performer whose mixture of comedy and sadness evokes Chaplin and Keaton, with a complete lack of tricks, pretense, or condescension’. The picture also won the 2015 Nordic Council Film Prize.

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