Delightfully charming and genuinely funny, The Homecoming is an Icelandic comedy from actor-turned-director Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, one of the co-founders of the Icelandic theatre company Vesturport. Based on a stageplay, The Homecoming is Björn Hlynur’s directorial debut.
The Homecoming tells the story of Gunnar, who has had a successful career writing self-help books and helping others mend their troubles. However, Gunnar’s own life is anything but perfect. His marriage to his high school sweetheart, Dísa, is on the rocks and when his son, Davíð, returns home from holiday, Gunnar’s long-forgotten secrets come back to haunt him.
Davíð has brought home with him a beautiful new girlfriend, Sunna. Sunna is pretty, witty and has a sweet disposition – all the qualities that would gain approval of potential parents-in-law. Raised by a single mother, she gets emotional when she asks about her father – she doesn’t even know who he is. As Sunna reveals details about her childhood, Gunnar comes to a horrible realisation: Sunna is his daughter.
A family in crisis
Rather than admit to his infidelity, Gunnar makes it his mission to sabotage their relationship, only causing further strains on his various relationships. This then makes up the majority of the plot and is the source of much of the comedy of the film. However, rather than successful tear the couple apartment, Gunnar only makes things worse for his current relationships. With that, the film also has some very serious and emotional scenes, creating a healthy balance between drama and comedy.
Meanwhile, a good portion of the film follows Gunnar’s mortally-ill brother Gestur (brilliantly played by Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson), who has recently survived the fifth surgery on his head. He receives news that he needs another surgery, and rather than agree to it, Gestur instead decides to enjoy the time he has left, drinking a strange Arctic thyme (blóðberg in Icelandic) mixture prepared by his girlfriend (María Heba Þorkelsdóttir) every day, which she believes may keep him alive. “There is nothing more difficult than asking for forgiveness,” Gestur tells Gunnar, advising him to do what is right before it’s too late. Gestur, despite his shortcomings, serves as this film’s moral compass and is a very valuable asset to the story.
Comedy in Iceland
Icelandic comedy in mainstream cinema is a relatively new concept, especially considering this film was released in 2015. Last year we were treated to another comedy, In Front of Others, and while both very serious, comedic elements can be found in Rams and Virgin Mountain. Homecoming, when it was released, was one of the first major Icelandic comedy films to travel abroad.
While the plot is rather unbelievable, it is easily forgiven by the high qualities of comedy and the skill by the Icelandic actors. The characters, while over-the-top, all have believable elements. Dísa, in particular, is enjoyable to watch throughout the whole film. One scene in mind involves her quickly applying lipstick before meeting her son’s new girlfriend, a type of humour that easily transcends countries.
Overall, The Homecoming is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and if it’s thought of the same way by its audience, it’ll be a very entertaining film to watch.
The Homecoming is screening as part of the Scandifilm season, which takes place at Exeter Phoenix’s cinema Studio 74 from 20th January to 21st March. Standard tickets for most events are £6 and available now from scandifilm.co.uk