Review: The Iceland Gang (2018)

The Iceland Gang (2018)

Directed by: Mans van den Berg | 73 minutes | family | Actors: Sem van Butselaar, Mattijn Hartemink, Wendy Riksen, Babbelot Leeman, Mohamed Bayu, Connor van Wijk, Ashwin Evers, Obadh Kheir Eddin, Jeroen Engeln

The brothers Mans and Derk van den Berg founded the production house NOBS in 1999. Mans was the one with the love for audio and Derk had the right eye for image. Initially, the brothers mainly focused on producing programs for regional broadcasters, but the blood crept where it couldn’t go and the ambitions of the men grew. NOBS pushed its boundaries and, in addition to many corporate productions, also made several short feature films. Because, the brothers say, making films has always been in their DNA. In 2015 – the production house now employed twelve people – the idea arose for a longer feature film, ‘The Iceland Gang’. Thanks to crowdfunding, the necessary financial resources were found and the project also gained a following who helped the brothers on their way. “The support that has come out of Cinecrowd is unprecedented,” says Derk, who is the producer of the film (his brother is the director). “Familiar and unknown people have committed themselves to this project as donors, played along as extras or contributed with attributes, film locations and catering. We are extremely grateful to them.”

With a largely inexperienced cast and limited resources, the Van den Berg brothers have managed to create a particularly sympathetic youth film that starts loosely and cheerfully. Sem (Sem van Butselaar) is a dreamy twelve-year-old boy whose father was tragically killed during an expedition in Iceland. He cannot express his grief with his mother (Wendy Riksen), who now has a new friend (Jeroen Engeln); a meddlesome type who pretends to be a New Age guru and cannot be trusted. So Sem decides that he should go to Iceland himself. His obsession grows by the day. During the summer holidays, he decides to round up his friend Mo (Mohamed Bayu) to form a gang with whom he can set up his Iceland expedition. Three boys and a girl are recruited and a clubhouse is found. In the woods around the clubhouse, the gang members practice for the big trip; none of the children know how important the Iceland trip really is for Sem. The happy adventures give way to serious grief when Sem finds out that it’s just a joke for the others; then he goes alone to Iceland, to follow his father’s tracks. But Iceland is an inhospitable and dangerous country, especially for a twelve-year-old boy alone.

Puberty is a difficult time, when children can run into all sorts of issues and have to deal with emotions that they don’t know how to deal with. Butterflies in the stomach of a first crush, extreme feelings towards the adults in their lives. Sem is no different from his peers in that regard, were it not for the fact that he walks around with great sadness that casts a great shadow over his still young life. And he cannot accommodate that grief, so he creates an obsession for Iceland, the country his father was also fascinated by. This is something of his, others don’t understand. And he doesn’t need his mother and his friends to get where he wants to be, he thinks. Once he made the jump, he turns out to be very mistaken. ‘The Iceland Gang’ suddenly changes in tone during the second half; the frivolity of the gang makes way for the deadly serious expansiveness of Iceland. The tone change is very natural. The Van den Berg brothers only had three days of shooting in Iceland, all the more impressive is what they were able to film with that limited time and resources.

Sem is a sympathetic character, played very naturally by Van Butselaar who, unlike his ‘film friends’, already has some acting experience. He is surrounded by a motley crew of young actors who together form a cheerful whole. Of course, occasionally a mistake is made, but that is forgiven the very young and inexperienced cast. ‘The Iceland Gang’ is a sweet, charming youth film in which there is room for cheerful exuberance as well as for a heavier theme such as grieving. The film and its makers are brimming with good intentions and they manage to win us over with that alone.

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