Noi the Albino
Iceland / Germany / UK / Denmark, 2003
Review by Rich Watts
Posted on 03 March 2005
Source Artificial Eye DVD
A remarkable film from Icelandic first-time director Dagur Kári, Nói albínói is the tale of a young man living in a small, unidentified fishing village in Iceland. Different from every contemporary and peer around him, Nói Kristmudsson spends his time away from school, desperate to find something to nourish his eager mind and to provide some way of achieving bigger and better things. Undertaking many small adventures, Nói navigates his way around the village, constantly testing its structure to find any weakness that will allow his escape, until eventually nature takes its course and provides him with the opportunity he has been looking for.
The film’s opening provides something of a summary of the circumstances Nói finds himself in: following a jarring alarm, he opens the front door of the shack he shares with his granny to find snow piled up around them, suffocating the house and preventing any sort of escape. Eventually the sequence cuts to the opening titles and a shot of a thin layer of snow blown away to reveal a road. This action neatly encapsulates Nói’s arrangement, and serves as a metaphor for the film’s resolution.
Effectively, Nói is a stranger in his own home: none of the many inhabitants of the village understand him—not his drunkard father, his teachers, his headmaster, his friends, or even his (admittedly brief) “girlfriend.” His sense of alienation is so acute he resembles an alien: gaunt, thin, bald and malnourished with deep, penetrating eyes, Nói embodies the stereotypical teenager, misunderstood without any means of satisfactorily expressing himself. Specifically, Nói’s malnourishment is severe, and his village provides little sustenance. After clearing out the snow in the aforementioned scene, he removes stones from his vile breakfast, while his granny pops her colourful morning vitamins. Clearly, Nói’s granny thrives upon her surroundings, whereas Nói is discomforted by them.
The film’s design is bleak and cold, as if in need of a spray of anti-freeze to clear away the frost. An icy palette of blue and green chills the viewer, drawing every element of warmth away from his surroundings and making him feel as cold and isolated as Nói. Primary colours are few and far between, saved only for those important symbols of Nói’s plight: the View Master — which provides an image of his escape — and the blood, which hints at the catastrophe that provides the film’s well-crafted climax. Tellingly, the only images saturated in warm colours are those of Nói in his secret underground bunker, evidently his only place of solace and comfort. The film’s sound design is similarly limited in its scope, recorded in mono except for Nói’s liberation, rendered in stereo to emphasize the riches soon to become his. Tellingly, a small refrain of Radiohead appears in some of the bonus material provided on the Artificial Eye DVD. (What better music to convey a sense of isolation in surroundings everyone else finds comfortable?)
Director Dagur Kári belies a certain innocence and youth in this, his first feature, offering some easily deciphered symbols such as the world map which elicits Nói’s dreams of escape. Since it concerns the seeming loneliness of a teenager, Nói albínói has a potentially biographical aspect, too, and it is to Kári’s credit that Nói’s story is one many people will find familiar—the small anonymous village a substitute for most any individual’s hometown.
In one of the many enduring images of Nói albínói, Nói throws rocks into a sea which calmly accepts them and ebbs under the graceful arc of a rainbow. Far from being a place where the rainbow ends, Nói’s village is clearly an area in which little gold is to be found; instead, it is a village where the rainbow falls short.