Short Film: Whale Valley
Whale Valley: When Guõmundur Arnar Guõmundsson’s short film opens, we are treated to a wide, sweeping shot of a gray farm landscape in Iceland. The camera gradually pans over to a barn, where a teenage boy stands on a crate with a noose secured around his neck, a look of complete vacancy on his face. In Iceland, where the film is set, the sun rarely shines for season-long stretches. This can cause depression for people who live there. Guõmundsson grew up in Iceland, where many of his friends took their own lives. He is able to channel this emotion into nearly every frame of his visually beautiful 15-minute short film, yet also instill a sense of optimism that sends a positive, and sometimes needed, message.
Arnar’s suicide attempt is interrupted when his little brother Ívar accidentally discovers him (they’re played by Einar Jóhann Valsson and Ágúst Örn B. Wigum, respectively). The connection between the two brothers is immediate and powerful; the young actors react to each other in a way that conveys a deeply intimate understanding of their characters. The film is very light on dialogue, and what little there is of it is spoken in Icelandic (a language I have never learned). Still, Guõmundsson’s direction and the acting portray enough intimacy that dialogue is not needed. The emotion on screen can be felt by anyone willing to receive it.
Guõmundsson directed the film to capture the societal pressures male youth in Iceland feel. Growing up, he said it was considered a weakness for boys to show emotion. While Guõmundsson feels lucky to have found film as a channel for his emotions, many people he grew up with were not as fortunate.
The countryside used as a filming location perfectly reflects the dreariness of the film; the crew drove to different farmlands for weeks before selecting the perfect one. Perpetually wet and dark, the location is at the same time beautiful, alleviating some of the tension with gorgeous cinematography. The scenery is perhaps a reflection that, even in the dark, there is beauty to be seen. “I believe my son’s generation is entering a more emotionally supportive and open society than the one I grew up in,” Guõmundsson said.