The first images of “Noi the Albino” are of the title character, a 17-year-old Icelandic boy, digging him and his grandmother out of their home following a massive — and, we gather, not infrequent — snowstorm. Thus the isolation and claustrophobia of Noi’s life is established, themes that will continue through this quirky, amusing little film.
Noi (Tomas Lemarquis) is an odd kid, too smart for school and hence uninterested in doing any work there. Teachers don’t know what to do with him, his grandmother (Anna Fridriksdottir) must fire a shotgun to rouse him from bed in the morning, and he spends much time at the gas station, drinking soda and flirting with the new employee, Iris (Elin Hansdottir). He lives in a desolate, remote village that is perpetually snow-covered, and he is an albino with a shaved head. He practically disappears against the landscape.
The film, written and directed by Dagur Kari, does not have a plot in the traditional sense. Instead, we see the various aspects of Noi’s life, his affable complacency, his courtship of Iris (to the dismay of her father, Oskar, played by Hjalti Rognvaldsson), and his relationship with his absentee father, Kiddi (Throstur Leo Gunnarsson), who is one of those convivial movie alcoholics and an unrepentant Elvis fan. In a sweetly amusing gesture, Noi’s grandmother sends him to the town fortune-teller (who is also the town auto mechanic) for guidance.
All of the humor is deadpan, sometimes so subtle you’d miss it. Until the film’s finale, in which Kari pulls off a change in tone so abrupt that few American films ever try it, the pace is low-key and unflustered, like Noi himself.
There is a bleakness about the film, a sort of hopelessness, where we must reassure ourselves with the fact that, though we may occasionally be directionless or complacent, hey, at least we’re not stuck in a tiny village in Iceland. We can find humor in Noi’s situation for as long as we don’t identify too strongly with him. People who actually live in remote Icelandic hamlets probably would not find the film very entertaining at all.
B+ (1 hr., 28 min.; Icelandic with subtitles; )