“Iceland is seen as a very idealised country, but there are also social problems”

“Iceland is seen as a very idealised country, but there are also social problems”

“Iceland is seen as a very idealised country, but there are also social problems”

Icelandic filmmaker Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson presents his second film, Beautiful
Beings, accompanied by his young protagonist, Birgir Dagur Bjarkason

Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson.

The image of Iceland in the popular imagination corresponds to a friendly, clean and civic- minded country, a land of wilderness populated by people who respect and help each other. The statistics support this vision – the island is currently the safest country in the world – but behind these figures there are also situations of poverty, addiction and marginalisation, as Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson pointed out during the press conference for his second film, Beautiful Beings, which is competing in the Official Selection, and which was attended by both its director and its young protagonist, the actor Birgir Dagur Bjarkason.

“Iceland is seen as a very idealised country, but there are also social problems,” said Guðmundsson, whose film, set in the late 1990s and early 2000s – when Icelandic youth were among the highest consumers of alcohol and drugs, in contrast to today’s figures – explores family dysfunction as a source of addictive and violent behaviour. “I wanted to reflect the situation of the country through the eyes of the children”, said the filmmaker, for whom society should support those homes in which abuse prevails in order to “rehabilitate themselves and move forward”. Along these lines, he also pointed out that one of his objectives with the film was to “inspire parents to get more involved in their children’s lives and teenagers in similar situations to see the problems and mistakes and try to get out of the situation”.

Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson y Birgir Dagur Bjarkason.

Beautiful Beings tells the story of Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason), a young outcast from a broken family who becomes part of a gang of boys who are as popular on the streets as they are outcasts at home. Together they smoke, drink and pick on the weakest, but they also support and protect each other; violence, from beatings to sexual abuse, permeates their daily lives, but tenderness – and, at times, an affection with amorous overtones – creeps in through the cracks in their everyday lives. Progressively, the director shifts the focus from Balli’s eyes to those of Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason), the most sensible member of the group – also the one who comes from a more stable family background – who begins to sense in his dreams what is about to happen. Both characters, as well as Konni (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson), the group’s bully, and Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson), the third in discord, are played by newcomers selected through open casting and followed by eight months of pre-shooting preparation.

“I’m very grateful to Guðmundur for choosing me for this role,” said the young actor, who is still a minor – he turns 18 in December – and who hopes that this will be the first of his many films as a leading man. “I have discovered that I love to act, to become someone else and stop being myself,” said Bjarkason, visibly comfortable and amused as one of the day’s stars, who confessed that the friendship he developed with his fellow actors has continued to this day.