The BBC arts critic Will Gompertz recently dismissed the new Eurovision movie as picture built on “lazy clichés and tired stereotypes.” In his mind Iceland and its 360,000 citizens don’t get the best treatment in the comedy, which sees Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams deploying their best Icelandic accents and obsessing over mystical elves.
“The depiction of Icelanders and their culture as an unsophisticated bunch of beer-drinking, whale-watching, knitted jumper-wearing innocents is tiresome and ignorant,” he said. “Iceland has a vibrant artistic community, which has produced some brilliant writers, musicians, and fine artists. They didn’t come from nowhere, they emerged from a rich seam of intellectuals that make the country such a magnet for artists of all kinds the world over.”
His criticism comes from a sincere place and flows from his respect for Iceland’s many talents. (Shout out to Olafur Eliasson, Björk, Ragnar Kjartansson and Selma Björnsdóttir, among others). It mirrors the concerns many Eurovision fans had ahead of the release — that Iceland might be end up as the butt of a bad joke. But scrolling through those tweets, and reading through various reviews that make similar points, there’s one rather glaring consistency: The people offended aren’t from Iceland!
So, as ever, we decided to sit down for a Eurovision kiki with our Icelandic bloggers Kristin Kristjansdottir and Steinunn Björk Bragadóttir. They’ve been keeping y’all up-to-date on the latest news out of the Nordic island nation for years, so we just had to ask for some freshly brewed North Atlantic tea.
Eurovision movie: What do people in Iceland think of the Netflix film?
Hey you two gorgeous queens of Reykjavík! How is the movie going down in Iceland?
Kristin: Well, it’s Number 1 on Netflix in Iceland as expected. And it is safe to say that this movie — plus Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams and Dan Stevens — all hit my Spoerg Note several times! Loved it.
Ahead of Eurovision, a lot of fans were worried about the portrayal of Iceland. Has that been an issue in Iceland now that it’s out?
Kristin: The general Eurovision fan seems to find it hilarious and to be honest, the only people complaining about the portrayal of Iceland are not even Icelandic.
Steinunn: Yeah, I loved the movie and from what I’ve heard and read the majority in Iceland do seem to like it too. I think the stereotype of the wool-sweater wearing redneck from an Icelandic hicktown is extremely funny and the guy that yells “play Ja Ja Ding Dong” is spot-on. There is always at least one of this type in every party and at every bar here in Iceland!
I agree with Kristin that the biggest complaints are coming from non-Icelanders, but we just have to accept the fact that Icelanders are in general very much country and maybe not that cool. Plus I think that countries like USA and Russia come way out worse than us!
Yes, henny! Pass me a Starbucks. Now even our own Deban Aderemi took issue with the accents in the film, suggesting they might belittle real-life Icelanders. What’s your take on it?
Kristin: The best part is how Ferrell and McAdams manage to absolutely NAIL the “Icelander speaking English” accent! They sound exactly the same as your everyday Icelander who speaks English but not very often or particularly well.
Steinunn: I actually find them sounding like a mix an Icelander and a Swede, especially Pierce Brosnan — actually he just sounds Swedish. At times Pierce Brosnan trying to speak Icelandic sounds like he’s been extremely constipated for at least 10 years, but it’s funny as hell and in his defence Icelandic is maybe not the easiest language regarding pronunciation for non-native speakers.
The scenes in Iceland are lush. At times it seems like a beautiful postcard from Húsavík. I am living for those whales that leap from the water in unison.
Steinunn: If you’d come to Húsavík, you wouldn’t be disappointed. It pretty much looks the same as in the movie. About the whales….I’m not sure that you would be 100% satisfied. The director of the local council of Húsavík — sort of like a mayor — LOVES the movie and thinks it is a masterpiece.
Kristin: We should add that the whales were paid generously for their synchronized swimming [laughs].
In the movie a lot of locals were sort of anti-Fire Saga. But then they all come together in the pub when Iceland makes it to the final. Is this true to life?
Steinunn: I think they nailed the unity between Icelanders when we go abroad or do anything that gets attention outside of Iceland. People might really dislike one another but as soon as someone gets attention outside of the country people become super proud. Like when the cop says in the bar, “They might be idiots, but they are our idiots!” Spot on. This unity, however, does not apply if someone does something really offensive or embarrassing — then we disown them for some time and then just conveniently forget it ever happened.
Kristin: I experienced this ESC-related unity in Copenhagen in 2014! Everybody hugging each other, being like: “Heyyyyy yoooouuuu!!!” And then when Iceland’s act Pollapönk was added to the mix, some guy at Euroclub asked me if we knew them. Nope, just Icelanders abroad, or better yet, Icelanders in DENMARK.
The movie features a ton of Icelanders. Were any of them recognisable to you?
Kristin: All of them are recognisable…you do realize that this island has around 50 inhabitants?
I was pleasantly surprised that the song “Húsavík” made me feel things. Does the use of Icelandic work for you?
Steinunn: The song “Húsavík” is actually a beautiful song and the Icelandic part is ok — even though I didn’t understand everything she was trying to sing at first! After taking a look at the lyrics I can see that they are not 100% grammatically correct, but a way better effort than the so-called Icelandic in Denmark’s “Higher Ground” from 2018. My personal favourite is “Ja ja Ding Dong”. That is a schlager-gem and pretty much embodies the vibe of Icelandic schlager-pop music. We call it dægurtónlist. All in all I’m happy with the movie.
Kristin: My favorite song would have to be “Lion of Love”. It’s so hilariously kitsch and very much “Eastern Europe in the early 00’s”! But “Húsavík” and “Ja Ja Ding Dong” are a very close second.
Thank you Kristin and Steinunn! Hope to see y’all slaying the press room at Söngvakeppnin in 2021!
Are any of you reading from Iceland? What do YOU think of the movie? Did you recognise any personas from your everyday life? Shout it out down below!