Movie Review: Iceland’s Oscar hopes are pinned to teenaged “Beautiful Beings”

“Beautiful Beings” is a rough and harrowing coming-of-age drama in the tradition of “Kids,” “Thirteen” and “My Own Private Idaho.”

Any hint of “Stand by Me” romanticized boy bonding is smothered where we fear these unparented, impulsive 13-year-olds will end up, face down in a “Trainspotting” gutter on an island — Iceland — which has no trains, but lots of drugs, addicts, bad parents and Scandinavian depression.

Iceland’s submission for Best International Feature (foreign language film) has teen violence, teen smoking, teen drinking, sex and rape, and a bizarre touch of magical realism that gives the entire tale a dream quality.

It’s about three free range Reykjavik lads — played by Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Viktor Benóný Benediktsson and Snorri Rafn Frímannsson — who hang together and find themselves dragged into the constant conflicts stirred up by the hulking, hotheaded Konni (Benediktsson). Addi (Bjarkason), the most “normal” and middle class of the lot, takes karate lessons, which is why he’s not shy about joining in whatever feud Konni has instigated.

But Addi is sensitive enough to show compassion for the mercilessly-bullied Baldur, or Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason). Whatever the others’ living situation, Balli, picked on because he “smells,” downcast every step he takes through every miserable day of his life, has it worse.

His junky mother (Ísgerður Elfa Gunnarsdóttir) stopped cleaning the house when her abusive brute of a second husband was tossed in jail. His teen addict sister (Kristín Ísold Jóhannesdóttir) took that “anything to get out of this house” route and hooked up with the first guy with access to an apartment.

Addi takes pity on Balli after seeing him on TV after Balli’s latest beating put him in the hospital. And eventually Konni and Siggi (Frímannsson) accept the timid “gimp” into their smoking, trespassing and vandalizing “gang.”

Even not-quite-well-adjusted Addi has his issues at home. His alcoholic dad ditched him, and his mother is sure she’s clairvoyant, which infuriates him. But maybe he “senses” things, too.

As the opening scene is the boys, hooded up and armed headed to some sort of fateful confrontation, we can only wonder what Addi or his talks-to-herself-mother didn’t see.

“Beautiful Beings,” titled “Berdreymi” in Icelandic, is superb at capturing the universal problem of idle, unsupervised boys making bad choices, creating “Lord of the Flies” pecking orders and lashing out in violence because nobody’s taught them otherwise.

The second feature of writer-director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson has, like his debut feature “Heartstone,” homoerotic strains in the affection among the boys, as well as a murky view of what is legally, pretty much any where on Earth, a rape scene.

There’s a clumsy shift in point-of-view in the film’s in media res opening, from our dreaming unidentified narrator to the bullied Balli. It wrong-foots the film, which takes a while to settle into being mostly from Addi’s point of view.

But Guðmundsson is quickly establishing himself as a talented, unblinking chronicler of his island homeland. “Beautiful Beings” is a most worthy film for the country’s film community to submit to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I could certainly see it landing a nomination.

Rating: unrated, violence including rape, drug abuse, teen smoking, profanity

Cast: Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Áskell Einar Pálmason, Viktor Benóný Benediktsson, Snorri Rafn Frímannsson, Ísgerður Elfa Gunnarsdóttir, Kristín Ísold Jóhannesdóttir and Anita Briem

Credits: Scripted and directed by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson. An Altered Innocence release.

Running time: 2:03

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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