Days of Gray: Reykjavik Review

Days of Grey Poster - P 2013

Days of Grey Poster - P 2013

Promising debut offers an enviable vehicle for the music of Icelandic band Hjaltalin.

Ani Simon-Kennedy's debut is a dialogue-free vision of a dystopian future.

REYKJAVIK — Envisioning a post-civilization existence in the primordial landscapes of Iceland, Ani Simon-Kennedy's Days of Gray makes the most not just of an untouched setting but of Hjaltalin, a local band yet to be discovered by American fans who've made successes of Icelandic groups like Sigur Ros and Mum. The entirely dialogue-free project, first imagined as a longform music video for the band, grew into a stand-alone narrative during preproduction; while its fable-like simplicity makes it a specialty item in commercial terms, it represents an assured debut that should attract attention on the fest circuit and could connect with musical tastemakers.

In this far-future scenario, both spoken and written language have been abandoned. Families live in isolation from each other, seemingly communicating via cryptic pictures viewed on magic-lantern slides. It's left to the audience to imagine events that might cause humanity to give up words, but such conditions certainly suit the emotional atmospherics of Hjaltalin, whose excellent all-instrumental score gives emotional support to the child actors carrying the film.

Centering on one family whose son (David Laufdal Arnarsson) is approaching adolescence, the plot is essentially a coming-of-age tale in which he must overcome his community's rejection of the outside world: As if in superstitious imitation of earlier generations who endured a pandemic, the family wears clearly useless breathing masks whenever they go outside; they shun strangers; and they destroy the artifacts from the past he unearths when scouting the countryside.

Contrast this with the girl he meets (Dilja Valstoddir), a wild-haired creature who lives in a cave and hoards circuit boards and plastic fragments that, in this earth-toned environment, scream with man-made color. Keeping their friendship secret, he goes off to meet her and silently mimics what seem to be yoga exercises but later prove to have a very practical purpose.

With cinematographer Cailin Yatsko, Simon-Kennedy makes the most of the landscape's alien, out-of-time qualities. (Both filmmakers are New Yorkers who'd never been to Iceland before discovering Hjaltalin's music.) The cobbled-together aesthetic of Nell Tivnan's production design sits in between sci-fi and a post-disaster survival film, but the picture's heart isn't in fleshing out its sketchily imagined world's rules. Rather, it identifies strongly with a hero looking to transcend them.

Production Company: Bicephaly Pictures

Cast: David Laufdal Arnarsson, Dilja Valsdottir, Viktoria Ros Antonsdottir, Gudmundur Ingi Thorvaldsson, Bryndis Petra Bragadottir, Margret Helga Johannsdottir

Director-Screenwriter: Ani Simon-Kennedy

Producers: Alice Bloch, Ani Simon-Kennedy, Cailin Yatsko

Executive producers: Kjartan Thor Thordarson, Kristinn Thordarson

Director of photography: Cailin Yatsko

Production designer: Nell Tivnan

Music: Hjaltalin

Costume designer: Christian Kjaerulf Praksti

Editor: Perry Blackshear

No rating, 79 minutes