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(The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs September 7-17 and HtN has tons of coverage coming your way! Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of Solitude. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Icelandic director Ninna Pálmadóttir makes her feature debut with Solitude, a seemingly slice-of-life drama that turns fraught at the end. Focusing on two lonely people, an old man and a boy, who find unexpected friendship via close proximity, the movie analyzes the way human behavior can turn on a dime, perceptions shifting to devastating results. Against the vagaries of human emotions, kindness will only get you so far.

Solitude opens with the sixtysomething Gunnar (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson, Driving Mum) in the process of losing the farm that has long been in his family, courtesy of a new dam about to be built. A loner with no close relatives, he didn’t petition in time to stop the project, and so is forced to move, albeit with a hefty government payout. With nowhere to go, he brings his beloved horses to a neighbor and heads off to the city of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital.

Once there, be uses his inflated bank account to buy a home, cash down, and settles in for what promises to be a life of, well, solitude. Except that fate has something else in store. A divorcing family across the way has a tween son, Ari (Hermann Samúelsson), who sees the single man wandering around and offers him a free newspaper from the extras he has after completing his delivery route. Gunnar wants none of that, but Ari will prove harder to shake than he thinks.

What to do when you wish to be left alone in a depressive funk but someone won’t allow that to happen? You could run, or you could just accept the situation. Gunnar does the latter, and when Ari finds himself locked out, ends up hosting him a few times after school, the two bonding over chess and their recognition of each other as fellow oddballs. Ari’s parents are initially happy about this, given how they are unable to coordinate their schedules, often discovering that the other has bailed on responsibilities. Why not use a jobless old man as babysitter?

This idyll won’t last, but until mom and dad discover a uniting cause that allows them to forget their own conflict, Ari and Gunnar get along just fine. Unfolding in the background of their moments together is Iceland’s refugee crisis (which it shares with many other host nations), Gunnar eventually deciding to put the money he doesn’t need to good use. But nothing beautiful lasts forever, and soon circumstances will send him back to his now-flooded farmhouse as a failed attempt to go back to how things were.

All along, as stakes rise and fall, Gunnar is his essential human self, no matter how others may see him. Ari sees who he is, which is why he responds so positively to this unassuming old man. Kindness may, indeed, only get you so far, but without life would not be worth living. Seen in these terms, solitude is a place from which there is a welcome return.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2023 Toronto International Film Festival; Ninna Pálmadóttir, Rachel Ramsay; Solitude movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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