Toronto 2023 Review: SOLITUDE Quietly Pushes Back Against Our Too Busy World

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Toronto 2023 Review: SOLITUDE Quietly Pushes Back Against Our Too Busy World
Do you know that tentative, tiny hand wave that shows up (oh so gently) in the movies from time to time? A recent example of this is the final shot of Donnie Darko, where Jenna Malone offers a raised hand to grieving mother Mary McDonnell, a woman she has never met, for the dead boyfriend she will never have. It is a fragile but important kindness in an indifferent world. One which so often can snuff things out. Ninna Pálmadóttir’s first feature instantly and completely won me over, early on, with one of these. A young, red haired paperboy, offers such a gesture to a man 50 years his senior who recently moved into his Reykjavík neighbourhood. 
That small greeting, and a later offer of a free newspaper, begins a relationship that seems doomed not to last in today’s suspicious and cynical world. Solitude, over the course of an economical 75 minutes, is both a lament and a balm for why the modern world with its pace and its social norms, will not let us have nice things.
The film early introduces us to Gunnar (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson), an elderly farmer living alone in central Iceland. He considerately helps a stranger in a three piece suit get a waterlogged new Subaru unstuck from the river than runs through his sprawling property. The stranger is a lawyer who serves Gunnar documents. The government is appropriating his farm and flooding the valley. Gunnar still tows the man’s vehicle to his house and gets it running again.
Other than seeing off his beloved white horse and gathering a few of his things, Gunnar’s relocation to the big city, purchasing a small townhome with a sizeable eminent domain payout from the Icelandic government, proves easy enough in bureaucracy. But far more difficult as an adjustment. Gunnar experiences an isolation among people that was not present in the bucolic countryside on his own empty land. That is until Ari comes along with his charmingly unwanted newspapers. It grows into an unlikely connection involving chess, frozen pizza, and simply knowing how to exist quietly in the same space with another human being.
It is the delicate beating heart of the film, the time Gunnar spends with Ari. They form a remarkable, if transient, friendship. An only child with no other friends with an aging bachelor with no family (except for a cousin in Canada.) Both have nothing but time on their hands, particularly since Ari’s divorced parents are fumbling with their distant, busy working lives and custody swaps.
Pálmadóttir has exceptional visual instincts in placing Gunnar in precisely the right spot in frame to show us everything we need to know. From his uninhibited comfort changing into fresh clothes right off the line at his farmhouse, to him huddled in a small chair in the corner while waiting to withdraw a large sum of money from the bank, or sitting side by side on his small couch with his new friend Ari watching television.

On Gunnar’s daily walks and bus rides in the urban landscape, picking up empty bottles and cans, to contribute to make his new neighbourhood a better place. At one pint, he glances, then touches a broken strand of netting in a playground. You know intuitively that will probably fix it later, even if it may happen offscreen. The film has a patient and giving sense of silence, even if it acknowledges that this silence will inevitably interrupted.
Solitude pushes back, where it can in subtle ways, against the changes technology has wrought on the world - both the artificial scarcity of time that we feel, along with social norms and obligations that look silly next to an easy-going friendship. It might break your heart a bit in the end, but it will fill it up at the same time. Exactly the thing that a gentle cinematic wave sets out to do. 
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Anna Gunndís GuðmundsdóttirIcelandJónmundur GrétarssonNinna PálmadóttirRúnar RúnarssonSolitudeÞröstur Leó Gunnarsson

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