In the spare and poetic "Noi the Albino," the title character is a seventeen-year-old gifted underachiever who lives with his grandmother in a dreary little village on the coast of northern Iceland. This would be a harsh, isolated environment for anyone to grow up in, but it is particularly trying for a misfit adolescent with few social skills and no real hope for the future. Noi, whose generally aloof, alcoholic father lives on his own in a different part of town, spends most of his time trudging purposelessly through the snowy streets of the village or holing up in the basement room he's carved out for himself as a kind of sanctuary from a world too utterly depressing to contemplate. Bored by school and bereft of friends, this young man drifts through life, dreaming of the day when he will be able to live on a very different kind of island in the South Seas, a location light years removed from this place where the interiors are every bit as stark and forbidding as the white-on-white world outside.
"Noi the Albino" is one of those films in which the very lack of anything significant happening becomes the central theme and message of the work. Noi lives a life that is so uneventful and boring that it would drive virtually any one of us to the brink of madness. We hardly blame him when we see him dozing through his classes at school or pilfering change from a mock slot machine set up in the local restaurant. Yet, despite the fact that virtually nothing of consequence happens, the film itself is a fascinating mood piece that seeps into our bones and makes us sympathize with the plight of the strange young man who occupies center stage in the drama. Most of the adults in Noi's life seem to sense his potential, but, for some reason, he is totally unwilling to tap into it. What's impressive about the film is that it doesn't try to explain why that is, though we sense it has something to do with the stifling environment in which he lives. Noi becomes emblematic of all people who lead lives of quiet desperation, tucked away in remote, virtually uninhabitable corners of the globe, far removed from the bustle and excitement that can be found only in places with large and diverse populations.
As Noi, Tomas Lemarquis gives a beautiful, subtle performance, creating a compelling and complex character using little more than body language and facial expressions. The final moments of the film are truly heartbreaking as Noi learns the value of what he has - even though, at that point, the realization comes too late.
Written and directed by Dagur Kari with an artist's eye for lyricism and austerity, this is a bleak but intriguing little film that will stay in your mind long past the closing credits.