Angels of the Universe (Icelandic)

The most interesting thing I learned about life in Iceland in the Icelandic film “Angels of the Universe” is that the president of that country lives in what appears to be a regular house, where you can just walk up and ring the doorball.

OK, I learned more than that. I also learned that the cold climate and long winters might contribute to Icelandic filmmakers turning out some dreary, haunting stuff, like Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s “Angels of the Universe.”

The film has a promising first half, exploring the nature of insanity and introducing a tragic protagonist, an unsuccessful artist named Paul (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson). Paul still lives at home with his taxi-driver father, housewife mother and younger siblings. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, he has fallen in love with a woman whose upper-class mother rejects him and breaks up the relationship. Soon, he is mad and in a mental institution, where he becomes friends with Viktor (Bjorn Jorundur), who thinks he’s Hitler; and Oli (Baltasar Kormakur), who thinks he writes Beatles songs telepathically.

Paul is in and out of the hospital and has visits with reality that are just as erratic. Sigurdsson’s performance is eloquent and powerful, and Fridriksson has a deft, occasionally surreal directorial touch. Sad, urgent strings frequently play on the score, all to great emotional effect.

The trouble is with the film’s middle: It doesn’t have one. Paul has his peaks and valleys, and we settle into that rhythm. And then nothing really happens. The film plateaus and doesn’t build toward a new climax until the end, when suddenly things are interesting again. Alas, this is enough of a misstep to reduce a dramatically effective film into one that is merely well-acted and artful.

C+ (; R, some nudity, some violence, some sexual innuendo; Icelandic with English subtitles.)