Virgin Mountain Review – Berlin Film Festival 2015

Virgin MountainConsiderably overweight and out of love. Cruelly bullied by the brutes in the work place and showing signs of arrested development at home. At the age of 43, Fusi (Gunnar Jonsson) is locked in a life marked only by its stasis. When did it all go, well, not wrong, exactly, but so static? The ritual of his existence would appear to have silenced his expectations to that of a weary, muted shrug. Is he suffocated by his appearance? And if so, was it always thus? With a balding pate and a sizeable frame, it is unclear as to whether his excessive food intake is out of comfort or out of depression.

As a man on the cusp of middle age and still living with his mother (and her lover), Fusi spends his days working as a baggage handler at the local airport and his nights making calls to his local radio station requesting heavy metal songs. His only other preoccupation is the recreation of the famous battles of WWII with the use of figurines, a roll of the die and with his best friend in tow. One day, his mother’s beau buys him the birthday gift of line dancing classes. With an injection of the new, there is the possibility that a new dawn might open up on the horizon for this lonely, inarticulate soul.

With an outline that could imply a tortuously heavy handed and arduous viewing experience, filmmaker Dagur Kari (The Good Heart) has defied expectations by making a gentle and tender, but also wickedly funny, film. Virgin Mountain is a delicate and humane portrait of a man who has many things stacked against him. Never taking the easy route, the narrative is focused on circumventing presumptions and taking realistic, yet unexpected, corners. It is a film brimming with hope, whilst never shirking from the dark forces that reside in life.

The success or failure of Kari’s feature falls squarely on Gunnar Jonsson’s sizeable shoulders. Due to the quiet turmoil depicted, it is essential that he gets it right. Thankfully, the big man proves to be more than up to the task. With a background that includes his own comedy troupe, it is no real surprise to learn that the humour is effortlessly naturalistic. The true revelation, therefore, is the pathos and sincerity in his relay of Fusi’s anguish.

Dagur Kari has drafted a fully rounded picture shorn of the neat, smooth finishes of Hollywood-esque artifice. Some might say that this is typical of much of Scandinavian cinema, and I would not argue against the view that this work has much in common with Moodysson or latter-day Vinterberg. It is a film that deserves a broad audience and a wide distribution. An unexpected gem and a highlight of the Berlin Film Festival.

You can follow Greg Wetherall on Twitter @gregwetherall

About The Author

Having upped sticks and marched down the A13 from Essex into the smog of London, Greg can be found ranting and raging as the Film Correspondent on the Jon Gaunt Show from time to time and also on his weekly 'The Film Review' podcast (plug alert - available on iTunes and Audioboom). Aside from Front Row Reviews, he also scribbles regularly for HeyUGuys. Lowlights, thus far, have been John Hurt scolding with the question 'do you really think like that?', upsetting acclaimed filmmaker Ondi Timoner with his piece for the Sunday Mirror and falling out with the blog editor of the Huffington Post. Oh, and he did bring Liv Ullmann to tears (but in a good way... more of a highlight, that one). He can also be found writing on theatre and music for the Islington Gazette, Ham & High, Hackney Gazette, Bargain Theatre, SupaJam and others. He's often moaning about how tired he is, and he's a frustrated musician.

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