'Home on the Ice' ('Eisheimat'): Reykjavik Review

Courtesy of Reykjavik International Film Festival
More a collective mini-memoir than a history doc

Hundreds of German teens took jobs in Iceland after the war

A half-dozen or so members of an unusual migration recall the decades-old experience in Home on the Ice, Heike Fink's look at Germans who left home as teens after WWII to take jobs being offered en masse in Iceland. Richly anecdotal but much less revealing in historical terms than one would expect, the film will be of most interest in the communities directly affected by the events, though some excellent footage of the strange terrain these migrants moved to keeps things lively.

Outsiders will come to the film expecting a good deal more background than they get here. At no point do the interviewees describe what the recently defeated country was like for a teenager to live in. Adolf Hitler's name comes up only glancingly, 50 minutes in, with a joking allusion to the fact that Icelanders expected the new arrivals to have stories to tell; no other reference to the war is made.

Nor do we hear from anyone who can explain how Icelanders decided to make this offer as a nation — though motives of some individual employers become clear: A number of the women, now in their eighties, say that single male farmers who advertised for help with chores were often really looking for a wife; in towns, housekeepers might be expected to do more than just make the bed. Whatever the extracurricular duties, the work itself was generally very hard, with hours longer and pay less frequent than advertised.

We don't meet any of the young men who came over on the ship, and this goes unexplained. Did all the boys return home after working for a few years? Have they all died? Whatever the case, our guides are a likeable group of little old ladies, ranging from tough to girlish, and each gets enough screen time to defy any assumptions we might make about their personalities at the start. They're surprisingly frank about unhappy childhoods or disappointments in married life. More than once, we hear a report of a husband's callousness or betrayal while the man himself sits without expression in the background. Many of the women have been homesick for over sixty years; as they try to answer whether they're Icelanders or Germans, Home on the Ice shows the role of inertia even in lives that take adventurous turns.


Production company: Thevissen Filmproduktion

Director-Screenwriter: Heike Fink

Producer: Juliane Thevissen

Directors of photography: Birgit Gudjonsdottir

Editor: Galip Iyitanir

Music: Julia Klomfass


No rating, 84 minutes