What’s memorable about “Autumn Lights,” an erotic thriller set in posh accommodations in rural Iceland?
Well, the nude scene depicted above, for starters. A couple of others. Some explicit sex.
It’s tempting to revive that long retired label “soft-core porn” in order to categorize this dim mystery in which the mystery is forgotten for most of the movie, and dispensed with, cursorily, late in the third act.
But we see Icelandic vistas and Icelandic forest, and naked actresses, which sounds like a movie to some folks. In this case, it adds up to instantly-forgettable.
We meet photographer David (Guy Kent) as his girlfriend is ditching him in the middle of an Icelandic assignment that he’d turned into a vacation. Her “We were fooling ourselves, it was a mistake” have barely sunk in when he stumbles across a body along the beach.
A young woman has killed herself. Whatever other plans David might have had, they’re back-burnered as the philosophical local cops want to question him and maybe explain away Scandinavian suicide to him.
“People die because they can’t live any more. They can’t go on.”
And sticking around lets David meet the neighbors. And their icy marriage and evasive answers to his questions about the dead woman draw him in.
That, and the Italian wife (Marta Gastini) makes no bones about flirting and isn’t the least bit discrete about what she likes to do in the woods.
Listening to her husband, the Austrian Johann (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson), you understand Marie. Just a little.
“The only things we can depend on — ourselves, and our unhappiness.”
First-time feature writer-director Angad Aulakh avoids the Icelandic scenic cliches, and works hard to establish a lonely sense-of-place in “Autumn Lights.” He sets up a potentially intriguing sexual dynamic, with wary but helpless-to-resist David tumbling into whatever weirdness these bored Europeans are into.
David is drawn to Marie’s blonde Icelandic coed friend, only to feel Marie’s jealousy. And if our memory is sharp, we start to wonder if we’re seeing some version of what really happened before that suicide is playing out again here.
But Aulakh has a hard time distinguishing between ennui and simple boredom on screen. The relationships, to a one, are arid and unmoving. The performances, with the exception of Gastini, are as lifeless as paintings.
The cops, David and everybody else lack any sense of urgency or purpose. And for a movie built around a photographer, there’s too little pictorially that suggests anybody here has a photographer’s eye.
“Autumn Lights” has a hint of Ingmar Bergman about it in intent, setting and title (he made “Autumn Sonata”). But in execution, we can’t tell if this was meant to be an homage or a parody.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with sex, nudity, adult situations
Cast: Guy Kent, Marta Gastini, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Thora Bjorg Helga
Credits:Written and directed by Angad Aulakh . A Freestyle release.
Running time: 1:38