Films from 93 countries have been submitted to the Academy to be considered in the Best International Film category at the 2021 Oscar ceremony. On 9 February, they announced that these have now been narrowed down into a shortlist of 15 films:
*Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
*Chile, “The Mole Agent”
*Czech Republic, “Charlatan”
Denmark, “Another Round” – Full Review
France, “Two of Us” – Full Review
*Guatemala, “La Llorona”
Hong Kong, “Better Days”
Iran, “Sun Children”
Ivory Coast, “Night of the Kings” – Full Review
*Mexico, “I’m No Longer Here”
Russia, “Dear Comrades!” – Full Review
*Taiwan, “A Sun”
Tunisia, “The Man Who Sold His Skin”
*Look out for an article covering these films
Directed and co-written by Silja Hauksdóttir, Agnes Joy was Iceland’s submission for Best International Feature at this years Oscars (but has not made the shortlist). Icelandic cinema is a bit of a blind spot for me with Órói (or Jitters to give it it’s English title), a queer coming of age film, being the only Icelandic film I’ve seen before – but I did love it.
Agnes Joy is the tale of a mother and daughter who no longer seem to be able to understand one another, and both are feeling like they’re missing out on something. Rannveig (Katla M. Þorgeirsdóttir) is drifting along in her mundane suburban life, stuck running the family business, which she hates and in a marriage that’s all but over. The titular Agnes Joy (Donna Cruz) is her nineteen-year-old daughter and Rannveig struggles to see that she’s growing up into her own person. There’s a lot of the usual family conflict but when TV actor Hreinn (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) moves in next door, it brings new challenges to the family’s relationship.
Þorgeirsdóttir and Cruz are co-leads and while this allows you to see where both Rannveig and Agnes are coming from, it also hurts the film as it doesn’t have a singular focus. Agnes ends up feeling like a generic teen character and you never really get to the core of who she is, while Rannveig is a little more fleshed out and compelling.
Both Þorgeirsdóttir and Cruz give good performances – Þorgeirsdóttir especially. There’s a moment where Rannveig has eaten dinner on her own (albeit accompanied by a couple of bottles of wine) and she just lets loose, dancing and singing along to the radio in her kitchen. It’s one of the few moments Rannveig appears to be happy and free and it’s telling that her family isn’t a part of it.
The rest of the time Rannveig is stressed out by a job she doesn’t like, an elderly mother who needs almost constant supervision, and a libido that is not being satisfied by her husband. A scene where she tries to relax and masturbate in her office is equal parts awkward and amusing as she’s almost constantly interrupted by phone calls and noises outside. Proving that Rannveig really doesn’t get one moment to herself, though it does seem like there’s not exactly much wisdom to pleasuring oneself at the workplace – even if the door is locked and the blinds are closed that’s a harassment and/or health and safety case waiting to happen.
There are some stunning shots in Agnes Joy that encapsulates the loneliness and yearning both Rannveig and Agnes feel. The landscape of this Icelandic town is harsh but beautiful with the sea, the hills and the grey skies. Agnes often finds herself looking across the water to the bright lights of Reykjavík, a place she wishes she could escape to. While for Rannveig it’s standing at the window as the sunsets on another monotonous day. The score by Jófríður Ákadóttir is often slow and melodic, adding to the dreary look of the place and how Agnes and Rannveig are feeling about their lives.
The more I think about it, Agnes Joy is just a very melancholy film. The town is very grey and there’s not many people around – having Hreinn move into the yellow house next door makes sense as he is something new and bright in a place that seems to always be the same. Hreinn makes the family sit up and take notice. Even Einar (Þorsteinn Bachmann), Rannveig’s husband who spends more time alone watching Netflix than with his family, seems intrigued by him and wants to impress him. It’s both Agnes and Rannveig who get pulled into Hreinn’s orbit though. They each end up having a relationship with him that the other, and Einar, wouldn’t be happy about.
The problem with Agnes Joy is that the general plot is so common to the family drama genre and it doesn’t do enough to make it different or interesting. It hits all the usual beats of a family melodrama, parents on the cusp of divorce, teen child feeling like no one understands them, the dull job, and then when something new suddenly appears, it’s a means of escape, but not necessarily a good or long-lasting one.
While Agnes Joy’s runtime is around the much-loved 90-minute mark, it’s a film that drags. It takes a while to set up the major conflict(s) that Hreinn’s involved in and then they’re resolved too quickly and neatly, and they don’t feel earned. Agnes Joy isn’t a bad film, it’s just not particularly memorable once you’ve finished it, nor interesting as you’re watching it. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and, unfortunately, as Rannveig says bitterly at one point: “Everything is so fucking boring.” Having now seen Agnes Joy, I’m not surprised it didn’t make the recently announced Oscars shortlist.