Children of Nature by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson (Review)

A lyrical film about death, nostalgia, and the importance of honoring the wishes of those whose years are near their end.
Children of Nature

I find it hard to believe that I’ve reviewed and ranted about so many movies, and yet I haven’t written anything about one of my favorite movies of all time. Allow me to correct that oversight with this review. My discovery of Children of Nature was somewhat roundabout, as I first heard it’s amazing soundtrack. Convinced that a soundtrack that lovely could only belong to a movie of equal beauty, I set out to track down a copy, and ended up buying one of the most poetic and beautiful films I’ve ever seen.

Children of Nature opens with several haunting scenes of Geiri, an elderly farmer, preparing to move to Reykjavik to live with his daughter’s family. Once he arrives there, however, things don’t work out at all. He doesn’t quite know what to make of his new urban surroundings, seeing as how he’s a man of the earth. His daughter’s family doesn’t have room for him in their cramped apartment and their teenage daughter can’t stand the old man meddling with her things. Unwilling and unable to work things out, they cart him off to the old folk’s home, where he can be properly attended to.

Shortly after arriving, Geiri runs into the home’s resident troublemaker, a feisty lade named Stella who also came from the same village as him. Not wishing to die in a place where noone cares about her, Stella constantly tries to escape and head back to the old country, but is always caught and dragged back, kicking and screaming, to the home.

At first, Geiri seems consigned to his fate. But as he and Stella spend time together and reminisce about their old home, he decides to go with her on another attempt. The two buy new tennis shoes, close up their bank accounts, and hotwire a mysteriously appearing jeep, beginning the journey back to the land of their youth.

At its core, Children of Nature is a lyrical film about death, nostalgia, and the importance of honoring the wishes of those whose years are near their end. However, it is not a depressing film. It is definitely a melancholy film, but also one with many reflective and transcendent. We know that Geiri and Stella will die. Avoiding death is not the issue. Rather, it is whether or not they can face death with peace and assurance. For Stella, she’d rather be surrounded by beloved memories of her childhood than the cold, sterile walls of the home.

The film also makes some pointed jabs at the way we treat the elderly. The aged characters of Children of Nature are outcasts, exiled from their family by loved ones who can no longer care for them, or wish to. They’re more like prisoners than anything else, with the nurses serving more as guards whose only duty is to make sure the old folks act appropriately. As a result, the residents of the home shuffle through life with an air of defeat and resignation, or retreat to fantasies about their families. Once Geiri and Stella break free from the home, they seem to gain strength. Freed to face death on their own terms, they become more alive.

As they draw closer to the old country, the film takes on an increasingly magical and ethereal air. It’s obvious that some sort of supernatural agency is helping them evade the authorities, and as the two travel on, they come across mysterious sights.

Two things augment this otherworldly feel. One is the amazing natural beauty of Iceland, which serves as a backdrop for the couple’s flight. Geiri and Stella pass through landscapes both pastoral and alien, through lush verdant fields and barren sea cliffs. And it all looks absolutely breathtaking. The other is Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson’s score, which is absolutely integral to the film. It remains one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, its lush ambience adding a tangible sense of poignancy to the film.

I really wish I could find stills for this movie, and capture some, because you really need to see just how beautiful this film is. Fridriksson’s direction is very sparse and economical (as evidenced by the film’s 85 minute running time). His scenes are short and to the point, which keeps his film from drowning in melodrama and sentimentality. And yet the movie never feels like it lacks depth or emotion. Truth be told, there’s probably more depth and beauty contained in a single scene from Children of Nature than in another movie’s entirety.

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