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Quake (Rappumine)

Engaging Icelandic mystery-drama about a fearful yet resilient woman strikes beats of positivity and inspiration - from the Current Waves section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Hear the word “quake”, and you immediately think “earthquake.” The shake or tremble experienced by novelist and mother Saga (Anita Briem), is not from the fright of buildings being shook, but an epileptic seizure, and the emotional, physical and psychological tremor from a hidden memory.

The catalyst for the drama in Icelandic director Tinna Hrafnsdóttir’s Quake (Rappumine), adapted from Audur Jonsdóttir’s novel Grand Mal, is when the recently divorced Saga, suffers a seizure while in the park with her six-year-old son, Ívar (Benjamín Árni Daðason). The episode results in memory loss, but during her recovery, repressed memories from her childhood begin to surface. Setting out to solve the origins of these mysterious glimpses into the past, she learns about herself and her family’s unspoken pain.

At no point does the economical storytelling labour under the weight of indecisiveness. One is struck by the impression that you’re seeing a director in total command of her craft, shown by her approach to the characters and narrative exposition.

Saga confides in her best friend about her’s mothers secretive nature, who isn’t surprised, and hints that Saga herself has a side she guards. Entering the transition phase between conflict and resolution, Hrafnsdóttir knows how much to show, exercising a visual and verbal subtlety. She prefers to frame Saga’s face, focusing instead on emotional expression instead of having a detailed scene play out for her audience. This serves to offset the intimate storytelling with a distance, allowing the characters to choose how much they are willing to share with the audience and when.

Featuring shades of a mystery, its predominantly a story about a woman’s fear. Saga is under pressure to turn in her latest manuscript, and her amended four-week deadline still looks to be inadequate. She lives in fear for Ívar’s health, obsessing over his bedroom window being shut at night, that frustrates her ex-husband, who has insisted that he look after their son until she’s recovered. The director uses this scenario to instil in her audience a suspicion, if not an expectation that the story will lean into the beginnings of a custody battle. It’s an effective use of narrative shades that complement one another, and in its three act structure, Hrafnsdóttir knows how to feed them into one another to conclude it in an emotionally satisfying way.

Listening to Saga’s conversation with her father about how she used to suffer “after-quakes” following an epileptic attack, Quake offers an intriguing metaphor for how we can view our minds. We’re the product of our collective experiences, those we can remember and those we’ve forgotten. The mind is a series of tectonic memory plates, built up over time that occasionally come into contact, and the friction results in emotional, physical and psychological quakes.

Saga’s a character we come to care for because she effuses a resiliency that is admirable and aspirational. Hrafnsdóttir invites us into an anxious chapter of her protagonist’s life, and delivers a positive message. As broken as we are, and we are all damaged, there’s hope. We must learn how to leave the past behind us and create a future that’s not trying to amend past decisions, but create new experiences. We can honour the past because it’s a part of our life story, but sometimes we need to remember calmly and quietly.

Quake (Rappumine) plays in the Current Waves section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Paul Risker - 28-11-2021

While technically an English-based film critic and interviewer, Paul shows his political disgruntlement towards his homeland by identifying instead as a European writer. You’ll often find him agree...

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