Lesbians in Iceland! Sort of. Maybe not as cheerful as that, sadly. However, Free for All Month focusses itself this week on a subtle examination of poverty, homelessness and the search for asylum. It’s bleak AF frankly but kind of sort of beautiful.
And Breathe Normally (2018), or Andið eðlilega (original title)
Lára, an apparent former addict and her son Eldar (Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson) are on the verge of hitting rock bottom. Things are shaky as we meet them but when the pair are evicted (along with their new rescue cat), they find themselves sleeping in the car and eating free supermarket samples for dinner.
Lára manages to dress this up as an adventure to Eldar who is remarkably chill for a kid and actually, is quite sweet. Lára isn’t jobless though, she’s a trainee Immigration Officer trying to become permanent and you get the impression there’s quite a lot of competition for a job like this. Accordingly she is very thorough, so when Adja comes through passport control on her way to North America with a dodgy passport, Lára clocks it – and so begins Adja’s personal hell.
Adja it turns out is seeking asylum from her country Guinea-Bissau and is travelling with her sister and young daughter, both of who get through security and arrive at their intended destination: Canada. When she is detained, Adja claims to be travelling alone and although Lára realises otherwise, she keeps schtum. Unfortunately for Lára, she is rewarded for her eagle-eyed skills by being permitted to sit in on the initial interview with Adja. Which is all kinds of awkward.
Adja is send to a half-way house with the threat of deportation hanging over her. The refugee center isn’t great and is filled with people in similar situations. Adja witnesses one of the tenants being forcibly removed by Immigration in the middle of the night and this understandably freaks her the fuck out.
One day by chance, the two women find their lives entwined once more. Adja meets Eldar when his cat runs away – and off the back of this Lára is forced to show her kindness. This is not something she lacks, it’s just that Lára is very conscious of the consequences her actions have had for Adja. Gradually though Adja twigs that the duo have their own issues and offers them shelter in her tiny, temporary room. She also offers to babysit Eldar while Lára goes to work. This is something that seems to bring her comfort in light of being separated from her daughter, who she can only chat to on the communal payphone.
Eldar and Adja bond and it is through this interaction that we get a little insight into Adja’s life. During a conversation with her legal support, we learn she is fleeing her country because of her sexuality. With Eldar she opens up about her ‘friendship’ with her lover, who seems not to be with us anymore. While there are hints of trauma in both the women’s lives, the film does not fully go in on them and somehow the simple suggestion of them feels worse.
In the end, a decision is made about Adja’s future and she is forced to consider some very drastic action. Luckily for her she now has a new friend to look out for her – and I’m sorry but the ending of this film made me feel all the feels. These women deserve better than the hands they were dealt and hopefully, they both finally get it.
While it is bleak and cold to look at (lots of frosty tarmac surrounding the airport Lára works in), the performances are great and it is a nice story. It’s proof that you never really know what other people are going through until they show you.
The men in this movie are mostly secondary, with the exception of Eldar and I like that. Lára’s bosses are largely unsmiling and authoritative, while Adja’s fellow (male) residents are portrayed (unfairly?) as people doing what they need to do to survive (e.g. wheeling n’ dealing). At one point Adja is approached and offered sex work. But this is about the struggle and these women find common ground in one another without the usual cliché of your typical odd-couple pairing.
Lára is also gay and our protagonists are not thrown together sexually for the titillation of the viewer and I’m here for that (I’m also here for titillation but you know what I mean). It’s no surprise that this was written and directed by a woman, Isold Uggadottir. In her hands it is a thoughtful study on immigration and more importantly, it humanises both sides of the coin. Refugees are people with lives and loves who don’t deserve the negativity they receive, particularly in the press (shock horror!) and Lára is a human being too, just trying to do the right fucking thing.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐