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Review by Júlíana Björnsdóttir.
On a snowy afternoon I sat down with a cup of latté to watch Jitters (original title Órói), one of very few films about the real life of Icelandic teens, and more importantly a film free of pretentious glorification of these difficult years.
Jitters is based on two teen novels by author Ingibjörg Reynisdóttir, Strákarnir med strípurnar ("The Boys with Highlights") and Rótleysi, rokk og rómantík ("Restlessness, Rock and Romance").
Director Baldvin Zophoníasson and writer Ingibjörg Reynisdóttir co-wrote the screenplay to the film and one of Iceland’s most talented actors, Gísli Örn Garðarsson plays a minor character in the film.
To me Jitters was an eye-opener. For the last ten years or so, I have had very little to do with teenagers.
I have a niece 11 years my junior (I am 31) but her teens were relatively quiet compared to those of the protagonists in the film, and the abrupt and rapid sequence of events that they encounter in a period of just a few months amount to years in terms of life experience.
I forgot how awful and how spectacular the emotional rollercoaster ride of the teens can be, and it seems to me it has gotten a lot more complicated since the rush of hormones dominated my teenage self.
The star performer in the film is Atli Óskar Fjalarsson who plays Gabríel, a 16-year-old adolescent at a turning point in his life.
During the summer before his freshman year in high school, or framhaldsskóli, he embarks upon a journey of self-discovery, a journey in which he experiences the highs and lows of life before making peace with his inner self.
The movie opens in an English language school in Manchester. Gabríel is introduced to Markús (Haraldur Ari Stefánsson), his Icelandic roommate for the next three weeks, and in that time they become close friends and discover a side of their selves they hadn’t dared to explore in their native surroundings.
Back in Iceland and perhaps more confused than ever, Gabríel is re-united with his best friend Stella (Hreindís Ylva Gardarsdóttir), a young girl who lives with her grandmother, and confides all her troubles to him.
The rest of the gang, all aged 16, are equally confused although perhaps less troubled and private as Stella and Gabríel.
What each of them have in common is their coming-of-age struggle in an age where the world moves at the speed of light, and adult interferences seem less and less relevant to their reality.
In fact, as I watched the film, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe as adults we often fail to give adolescents the credit they merit.
Sure, we worry about their drinking, whether they practice safe sex and hope they watch out for the people out there just waiting to take advantage of their innocence.
Yet regardless of the mixed messages and the exposure to a freedom they might not be quite ready to handle, they seem to be doing pretty well.
In the case of Stella, her biggest struggle is with a grandmother who refuses to trust her and is blinded by a prejudice against the new multicultural society.
For Gabríel, it is his mother’s endless interference with his private life. From an adult’s point of view, her concerns are rational, but seen from the perspective of a youth still digesting the changes in his life, her concerns and attempts to take control of his life are a reflection of her own struggles to let go of her only child, who is stuck somewhere in-between childhood and adulthood.
The film’s success is rooted in the hard truth—so explicitly told—about the Icelandic reality, as we know it. The romantic illusion of American teen films is shattered here.
Instead, portraits of drunken intercourse, excess drinking of adults and youths alike, and the complete lack of discipline and propriety, again in adults and youths alike, is the exposed reality.
Gréta, played by Birna Rún Eiríksdóttir, is one of the many products of a one-night stand, conceived in a haze of alcoholic consumption and in a place where brand new summer love sometimes leads to an accidental conception.
The other members of the gang are Teddi (Elías Helgi Kofoed-Hansen) and Júdít (María Birta). Teddi is the self-proclaimed womanizer, who can’t resist the charm of skinkur.
The direct translation of the word is ham (yes, the food) and the term refers to the Icelandic version of UK’s Katie Price, otherwise known as Jordan, usually minus the breast enlargement.
Being called a skinka (sing. noun) is not much better than being called a “skank” (however unfair and assuming that interpretation may be I will not debate here) and Teddi favors them for that very reason.
Júdit is the party girl who tends to drink too much and make a bit of a mess out of things. Nonetheless, her heart is always in the right place and she is a loyal friend.
The film is a sincere depiction of the ever-changing scenario of the adolescence years and the constant shift in normality from one generation to the next.
The vast changes in technology and the seemingly de-romantification of love and sex is what we see on the surface of a realist film about teenagers.
The raging outbursts and ingratitude for the rare freedom teenagers experience in Iceland is merely an act. Underneath the tough surface, they do appreciate their freedom and have the capacity to make good choices.
And however awkwardly they may go about finding love and tackle the obstacles posed by their parents, they seem to somehow make it all work.
For the reasons given above and a young talented cast, Jitters succeeds in representing the adolescents coming of age in the 21st century.
The strong bonds of friendship are as important to today’s generation, as they have been to the older generations “surviving” these difficult years, and the same parental problems are inherited from one generation to the next.
What is different is the positive change in attitudes toward the matters of the heart and the “laissez-faire” adaption of new norms.
The capacity to move on and have the courage to be and live in the moment is the impression I got of the representation of Icelandic youths in the film.
As a critic, I looked for faults in the film but I found none so significant as to overshadow the good in the film.
This is a film worth watching if you have an interest in getting to know how the teenage heartbeats in Iceland, and as such it is worthy of my highest praise.
The film is available on DVD with English subtitles in webstores such as nammi.is.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org