• Datum 16-01-2014
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Films have taught us important things about love. While the most important aspect of love is showing it, you should also mention it every once in a while to the person you love. To you it might not seem too hard, and maybe the words ‘I love you’ are integrated into your culture, films or no films, but in Iceland that’s not the case. I’m generalizing of course, but bear with me.
Iceland is a a cold country. Both in terms of weather and also when it comes to showing human emotion. But Icelanders are just as loving as the rest of the world. They’re just not as used to putting it into words.
Films can help us put things into words and Icelanders, raised on American cinema, have all given the old ‘I love you’ a try. And it never rings true. It can actually be quite cringeworthy. But why, we ask ourselves, does it sound so good in English? It even works in the Icelandic subtitles, but when I say it out loud in Icelandic I sound like a big phony.
I tried it on an ex-girlfriend a couple of times. The sincere, serious-as-a-heart-attack version. "Ég elska þig." It was horrible. We both laughed and went back to saying it in the childish, even cartoony, voice from before. I wanted to be Clark Gable but settled for Elmer Fudd.
Filmmaking in Iceland is a fairly new trade. 1980, the year of my birth, is regarded as some kind of starting point for Icelandic cinema. Since then, between four and eight local releases have seen the light of day each year. That might not seem like a high number but keep in mind that the population is a little over 320.000. Four to eight films each year is a triumph but the I love you’s are few and far between. No wonder I can’t say it if even Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, one of our greatest and most respected actors, can’t deliver it convincingly. He’s not to blame though. It’s a cultural thing that takes years of practice.
The quality of Icelandic films is increasing every year. Twenty years ago we were having difficulties with sound. It was muffled and you couldn’t hear the dialogue properly. Ten years ago we were still complaining about Icelandic actors being too used to the theatre. You kinda have to yell out your lines on stage but it’s silly on celluloid. The actors had gone from hardly audible to pompously loud.
Today, Icelandic filmmakers are in the process of fine-­tuning. Minor tweaks in the right places and we’re good to go. We’ve seen some great Icelandic releases in the last decade and one day, hopefully in the not too distant future, our filmmakers will be confident enough to start throwing in the I love you’s. And slowly we will get used to hearing it and we’ll be able to say it ourselves.
Perhaps I’m a hopeless romantic. Maybe ‘I love you’ is just not for us.

Haukur Viðar Alfreðsson is a film critic and journalist for Vísir |