VIFF 2013 Review: XL

Olafur Darri Olafson plays a debaucherous Icelandic senator in XL.
Olafur Darri Olafson plays a debaucherous Icelandic senator living it up before rehab in XL.

XL is something unique: a feature film from Iceland. Just as unique is the story and the subject matter. Question is how watchable is it?

The story focuses on Leifur Sigurdarson, a senator in the Icelandic parliament. Leifur has been told by the Prime Minister of Iceland that he is about to be placed into a rehab clinic. His alcoholism is that obvious. Leifur then decides to live his ‘last few days of freedom’ with a bang.

He is known for his tempestuous relationship with his girlfriend Aesa. He gets involved with all sorts of kinky games with Aesa and even sado-masochism. The two of them also live it up together with some of his rich friends who also like to live life in the fast lane. They all go from bar to bar having their fun and doing whatever they want.

Despite this orgy of debauchery, Leifur receives constant reminders from others about what he’s headed towards. Politicians remind him, family try to reach out to him and even his daughter from a past marriage tries to remind him of who he’s neglecting. Nevertheless Leifur continues on with his debauchery. It isn’t until the last day that he’s reminded that time is running out and he can’t handle it any more.

It is possible that the director is trying to send a message in this film of the corruptness of politicians in Iceland, especially as it headed to economic collapse in 2008.Iceland has always been ranked as one of the Top 10 least corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International’s annual Corruptions Perception Index but it’s not to say that corruption doesn’t exist there or even in the other top nations. Even in the least corrupt nations in the world there are sleazy senators or debaucherous congressmen. Even heads of state can commit their own sleaze.

However the film caused me to question what the purpose of the film was. Was it to make a statement about corruption in Iceland? Was it to push boundaries or even envelopes with the material? Was it to be artistic? I was left undecided when I saw this. All too often it seemed like the film makers were putting huge focus on Leifur’s debauchery and even the sadomasochism. I was often tempted to think it was trying to put the heaviest emphasis on the shock value. Even the artistic elements like making a stage play out of Leifur’s life appeared confusing especially since it wasn’t put in as consistently. Sometimes there were some artistic merits the film makers took that even appeared like it was bad editing. I was left with the frank impression that this lacked a definite direction to what it was attempting to show.

This film is the latest effort from Marteinn Thorsson. He worked for Canada’s The Movie Network in the past directing ads and promos. His first film One Point O helped put him on Variety magazine’s list of ‘Top 10 Directors To Watch’ in 2004. He also directed the critically renowned drama-comedy Stormland from two years ago. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with his style of filmmaking but I still stand by what I say that this film he directed and co-wrote with Gudmundur Oskarsson doesn’t make its intentions or its point clear. Even if he’s trying to make a statement about political corruption, it looks like he’s making more of an effort trying to entertain us with shock value. The film has receives some renown. It was nominated for the Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary film festival and the performance of Olafur Darri Olafson won Best Actor at that festival.

If there was one standout from the movie, it was the performance of Olafur Darri Olafson. His performance as Leifur was very complex as he went from the king of debauchery to this man with a problem. Also a scene stealer is Maria Birta as Aesa, the one woman who seemed to know how to control Leifur. The best minor supporting role came from Tanja Omarsdottir as Anna, the daughter caught in the middle of this. The musical score by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, which was mostly modern-based, fit with the film well.

XL is an artistic attempt at telling a story of a politician and his corrupt mannerisms. In the end it comes across as a film that’s unclear what its intent is.


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