out of Five
Running time: 97
Beautifully shot and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional coming-of-age drama with a strong message and a heart-wrenching central performance from Thora Bjorg Helga.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Ragnar Bragason, Metalhead is set in a remote village in Iceland and stars Dilja Valsdottir as Hera, a 12 year old girl who witnesses her older brother Baldur's tragic and violent
accidental death in the opening minutes of the film. As a way of dealing with her grief she burns all her clothes and adopts her brother's love of Heavy Metal music, including his leather jacket and
his stash of t-shirts.
Years later, Hera (now played by Thora Bjorg Helga) is still crippled by grief and unable to move on, though she has at least taught herself how to play Heavy Metal music on her brother's guitar, in her farm's cowshed with the family cows as a less than willing audience. As Hera's erratic behaviour causes ripples in their village community, her parents (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson and Porunn Arna Kristjansdottir) struggle to control her, but help arrives in the form of a friendly new local priest (Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson as Janus), who unexpectedly turns out to be a fellow Metalhead.
Thora Bjorg Helga is terrific as Hera, delivering a heart-wrenching performance that is often painful to watch, as she engages in increasingly self-destructive behaviour (her favourite pastime is getting wasted on her father's moonshine and drunk-driving the neighbour's tractor). Similarly, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson and Porunn Arna Kristjansdottir are both superb as Hera's equally devastated parents and there's strong support from Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson and Hannes Oli Agustsson as Knutur, Hera's childhood friend who's harbouring a massive crush on her.
Bragason's sharply observed script expertly captures the agony and heartache of unchannelled grief; crucially, Hera's parents are unable to see just how badly their daughter needs help because they still
haven't dealt with their own grief. In addition, Bragason and his cast have a powerful line in compassion; the ways in which people try to help Hera are genuinely moving and you continually hope against hope that they will be able to get through to her.
The film is also beautifully shot, with August Jakobsson's cinematography making strong use of both the arctic-looking Icelandic weather and the breathtaking, mist-shrouded landscapes. Similarly,
Bragason (presumably a Metalhead himself) shows an understanding of the music, aided by a superb soundtrack; and the scenes where Hera makes her own music are particularly good.
In addition, Bragason stages a number of memorable scenes, such as the sequences where Hera bonds with Janus, Hera performing her first concert in the village hall or a crucial turning-point set on a stunning snowy mountain-top. Wonderful final scene, too.
Metalhead is a sharply observed and powerfully emotional study of grief with a terrific central performance from Thora Bjorg Helga. Highly recommended.