“And Breathe Normally” is about two women who arrived at their similar circumstances in vastly different ways, but who recognize the desperation they have in common.
This Icelandic drama is about human migration, refugees, homelessness and the missteps that put the Icelandic Lára and West-African Adj in each other’s paths in the bleak Reykjavik of early spring.
Lára (Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir) is a woman at the end of her tether. She’s a single mom, in between jobs and drowning in “past due” notices. She and little boy Eldar (Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson) are about to lose their apartment. So naturally she relents when the kid wants to adopt a cat from the shelter.
We get hints of her past and a “Dragon Tattoo” taste of her sexuality (Haraldsdóttir even looks like Noomi Rapace, cheekboned and makeup free). Every ball she’s juggling is about to tumble to the ground.
But the state has Lára lined up with a potential job. She’s to be a trial trainee with airport passport control. Can she keep her son fed and housed until she lands the gig? With her past, is she even up to this important but menial job?
That’s how Lára meets Adj. The woman with a French passport is about to be passed through on her way to Toronto. But the eagle-eyed eager-to-impress trainee spots something her supervisor doesn’t. Adj is not French, she’s from Guinea-Bissau. That’s not a legitimate passport.
Lára has to guiltily escort a devastated Adj into custody. “Guiltily?” The woman desperate to land a real job has enough history to recognize desperation and remember “Let she who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Writer-director Isold Uggadottir’s debut feature takes us into Lára’s failings and deep into Adj’s predicament. The illegal immigrant is treated politely, but without sympathy. “It’s just the system,” she’s told (in English), the answer to her every question. How long will she be in custody? Can she apply for asylum? Will she be deported back to the place she fled?
Overwhelmed Lára and deflated Adj are destined to reconnect in ways that bring to mind “It takes a village” as this film hunts for and finds tears in their shared plight.
It’s a “small” story in every sense of the word — intimate, with the scale of the tragedy achingly personal. “And Breathe Normally” has suspense and pathos, despair and clever script twists and two beautifully modulated performances making every setback gut-wrenchingly real and every glimmer of hope inspiring.
MPA Rating: TV-14, suggestions of drug abuse, sexuality
Cast: Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Babetida Sadjo, Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson
Credits: Scripted and directed by Isold Uggadottir. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:35