'Horizon': TIFF Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A gorgeous but perhaps not feature-worthy tribute.

Viggo Mortensen and others praise the late Icelandic painter Georg Gudni.

In a place as visually splendid as Iceland, it would be surprising if every generation of young artists didn't produce at least one intent on capturing some of those landscapes on canvas. Horizon eulogizes the latest such painter — Georg Gudni, who died in 2011, far too young at 50, but old enough to have left his mark on the region's art scene. Interviewee Viggo Mortensen is the biggest draw for this quiet, lush film in territories beyond Scandinavia. Given the picture's emphasis on artistic philosophy over biographical involvement (it never even tells us the cause of his death), it would play better as a visually rich short film than at feature length.

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Gudni's mature work would not immediately be recognized as nature-based by many viewers. The paintings can look like geometric abstraction, where forms are minimalist but texture is dense. "You search for something to see, but you don't see anything," the painter says. "This is where you as the observer create your own image" from prior experiences. Approached in this way, the simple-looking color fields can become transcendental experiences of the universal truths of Iceland's volcanic terrain. While visitors to the island nation marvel at waterfalls, peaks and moss-covered lava fields, Gudni explains that he was never inspired by spectacular features but by everything that was in between.

In between interviews with Mortensen — who met Gudni by chance in 2003 and was so impressed he published a book of his work — and assorted art scholars and colleagues, directors Bergur Bernburg and Fridrik Thor Fridriksson offer plenty of quiet views of the painter's homeland which are often accompanied by spiritual-sounding excerpts from his journals. These have an entrancing effect when juxtaposed with the paintings themselves, but in the interviews and in studio visits shot before the painter's death, a good deal could be trimmed without losing much insight. The amount of explication of technique and intent would be appropriate for a major figure in art history, and the film may in fact believe that's what Gudni should be. However intrigued they may be by his lovely work, few viewers are likely to reach that conclusion.

Production companies: Horizon (Sjondeildarhringurefh), ResearchGruppen ApS

Directors: Bergur Bernburg, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson

Screenwriter: Bill Rathje

Producers: Bergur Bernburg, Bill Rathje, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Magnus Arni Skulason

Director of photography-Editor: Bergur Bernburg

Music: Kjartan Holm

Sales: Icelandic Film Centre

No rating, 81 minutes