Sólveig lives out in the wilderness of rural Iceland, a volunteer who keeps an eye out for lost tourists who venture into the unfamiliar terrain. Soon after killing a man during a blazing row and disposing of his body she encounters and gives shelter to Molly, a holidaymaker on the run from her abusive husband Kurt. Secrets and revelations soon abound, and as the situation escalates it becomes clear nobody will walk away unscathed.
Aside from its swiftly developing capital city of Reykjavik, Iceland is a sparsely populated and largely barren island. As a result, it’s not difficult to envision dark deeds being carried out on its basalt planes, away from the prying eyes of even a random passer by. The bleak desolation, silent but for the unforgiving sibilance of arctic winds blowing in from the pale ocean, is as isolating as it is expansive, while the cloud-blocked sun of the title seems almost reluctant to shine on the violence and vengeance being carried out beneath its weak glare.
Clearly a man with a theme, writer-director Graeme Maley also recently produced another obtuse Iceland-set drama with A Reykjavik Porno, but Pale Star is much less of a confusing mess and is structured with far greater narrative precision. His background in theatre is clear in the claustrophobic intensity of many scenes, the camerawork so intimate as to be intrusive as it focuses on the characters, the accusatory intensity practically daring them to reveal their secrets.
Like Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, the story is told largely without dialogue. Indeed, aside from a muted argument and a single word of greeting, it’s over 20 minutes into the film before anyone even speaks. In spite of this, the story is deftly conveyed with its visual presence, with looks and body language conveying people’s feelings in enough detail that words become unnecessary, while even something as subtle as a camera angle can provide a clue to a hidden facet of a situation. What dialogue is present is mostly in English and while the small amount of Icelandic goes without subtitles, it isn’t difficult to understand what’s being said, if not the exact meaning of the words.
Pale Star will not be for everyone. For the same reasons that some will find the film deep and significant, others will think it dull and pretentious. What can’t be denied it that it’s an experience of pure cinema, and one that marks its director as a talent to watch.
PALE STAR / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: GRAEME MALEY / STARRING: ÞRÚÐUR VILHJÁLMSDÓTTIR, ISABELLE JOSS, IAIN ROBERTSON, ÞRÖSTUR LEÓ GUNNARSSON / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10