By Winnie Wang
“At least it’s a huge sum the government is paying you, and you won’t be drowning in debt,” quips the state official, hoping to ease the tension after seizing an elderly man’s land. Following the evacuation of his farmhouse in the Icelandic countryside due to flood risk, Gunnar (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson) begrudgingly relocates to urban pastures with 150 million króna (approximately 1.5 million CAD). Leaving his equine companion behind, he swiftly settles into an apartment and attempts to adjust to metropolitan life in Reykjavík after years of isolation in the countryside. Despite his unwelcoming appearance, Gunnar appears motivated to integrate into his community, from riding the bus to recycling plastic bottles to observing street demonstrations about the mistreatment of refugees. For the most part, though, his socialization is facilitated by interactions with Ari (Hermann Samúelsson), a young boy in the neighbourhood who sells newspapers, and whose divorced parents often leave him in need of a caretaker. Soon, a game of chess between the two blooms into a meaningful friendship of mutual care and recognition: Gunnar sees Ari’s neglectful abandonment, and Ari sees Gunnar’s desire to belong somewhere.
Even with the best intentions, however, not all acts of kindness are met with appreciation. After two separate misunderstandings precipitated by a lack of familiarity with social norms, Gunnar finds himself roughed up by Ari’s father and interrogated by police officers, propelling our city dweller to seek refuge in his homestead. This abrupt shift destabilizes the film’s feel-good trajectory, a blunt reminder of Gunnar’s status as an outsider who has perhaps lived alone for too long to truly assimilate. But when faced with the severity of the damage to landscapes claimed by swollen rivers, there’s no turning back. The film does eventually entertain the possibility of reconciliation with Ari’s family, though there’s no definitive promise of forgiveness, given director Ninna Pálmadóttir’s commitment to an earnest exploration of difference, displacement and loneliness. As a feature debut, Solitude quietly announces the arrival of Pálmadóttir as a filmmaker capable of saturating every moment with warmth, compassion, and nuance.