Fantastic Fest 2008: Astropia

In 2007 the top film in Iceland was not a Hollywood import. Of the half dozen or so domestic films to be made in Iceland each year one of those emerged as the clear champion of the box office. This clever little film took on the big boys and out of this country of 300,000 people came a very funny and nostalgic film asked a simple question.

What would happen if the hottest woman in the world walked into a comic book store and became immersed in its culture? Taking its cue from a real life incident Astropia is a fish out of water tale battered and deep fried in nerd culture. When Hildur, a beautiful high society girl, finds out that her boyfriend Jolli is going to jail on embezzlement charges, she finds herself her own and penniless. She stops by the local fantasy shop Astropia to buy her nephew a gift when she notices a help wanted sign in the door. Inside dwell the kings and queens of the nerd kingdom. Comic book, movie and roleplay gaming geeks hang out in the corners of this small haven. Hildur lands a job selling role playing books and accessories despite not having any experience at all. At Astropia Hildur is introduced to a group of nerds who give her a new outlook on life. Her life transforms as her few friends introduce her to the fantasy world of gaming.

How does a film do this well in its own country? By all accounts this type of film is an anomaly in its native land and perhaps that is the reason why it is so successful. The filmmakers lament the fact that there isn’t a very strong nerd/geek culture in Iceland but perhaps what Astropia did was tap into that part of everyone that appreciates the good horror film, comic book or RPG. History has proven that underneath a domesticated or conservative culture there exists this side and sooner or later it will lash out in protest. Astropia stabs at the cultural darkness until it bleeds daylight. Geek daylight.

Also to its credit the film does boast an all-star cast by Icelandic standards. It doesn’t hurt at all that your lead actress is a popular television host, former Miss Iceland and hotter than Hell. The cast also includes two comedic duos, one that was popular when the filmmakers were young and another who is currently popular with the Icelandic community. The script by Otto Geir Borg and Jóhann Ævar Grímsson is damn funny but also touches on simple humanity and tenderness. There is a love story there between Hildur and Dagur but they treat it with such subtleness that it never feels sappy like the romance novels Hildur reads and Dagur translates.

Geek culture is often a nostalgic culture. Apart from our current leanings and devotions there also exists in us a fondness for things and events that made an impact on our own growth. The writers of Astroia understand that and their script relates to our feelings. The scene where the DVD guy hands out DVDs to the little nephew our synapses are firing and linking with each title he names out. The references to Star Wars and the Matrix trilogy are ever so brief but even just that flash of Obi Wan’s green light saber and the glimpse of bullet time evasion was enough to solicit laughter and admiration. The movie is at its best when it is based in the real world. The fantasy scenes are good but not nearly as fulfilling as the scenes in the real world. Despite my feelings about that though this film is largely entertaining and very, very funny.

It plays one more time on Wednesday the 24th.

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