Director Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir’s debut The Deposit manages to say whole lot of nothing throughout its 90-minute running time. Every moment that it threatens to get exciting, it veers off into strange moral territory, bizarre character twists or simply doesn’t do anything. Adapted from Auður Jónsdóttir’s novel, it’s a shame because the film does manage to foster a tense atmosphere between its major, varied characters. The script tries to portray a grey morality, but it leaves the film with nothing to actually say. Gisella (Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir) struggles with debt after quitting her post at a newspaper. When tasked with writing piece on immigrants for her new bit-part magazine, Gisella invites immigrants to live with her in her large, lifeless house. Maria (Raffaella Brizuela Sigurðardóttir), Abeba (Enid Mbabazi) and Abeba’s daughter Luna (Claire Harpa Kristinsdóttir) move in but tensions soon rise. The Deposit tries to make a point about immigration, and European racism, but it undermines itself with strange character choices and a failure to build on the chillingly, uneasy atmosphere.
As the film opens, Gisella flamboyantly quits her job, claiming that she wants to be involved in proper journalism. When a new job requires her to investigate immigrant housing, she quickly begins snooping around a dilapidated estate where she finds Maria, Abeba and Luna. After some initial trepidation from both parties, Gisella invites the immigrants to rent her spare rooms and all three soon become friends, host happy to share everything with her new tenants.
Gisella takes to Luna especially, keen to spoil the child but also wary of Abeba’s contrasting parenting style. However, suspicions soon arise amongst the housemates and Gisella resorts to implementing strict new house rules. Gisella’s paranoia grows as she begins to study Maria and Abeba, noticing more and more contingent details about her guests, funnelling her incessant desire for control into increasingly dark territory. It’s not long before Gisella starts to exhibit the racist tendencies that her new job sought her to denounce.
The Deposit succeeds in creating an initial air of suspense, but it fails to capitalise on it. Gisella’s relative descent into madness is uneven and poorly paced. She veers wildly from one extreme to the other and it’s hard to believe that she’d actually invite the others into her home in the first place. She’s also the least interesting of the main characters by far. Maria and Abeba’s intriguing pasts are hinted at throughout, but we never get to the heart of these characters. Instead we spiral downwards with Gisella into dangerous white saviour territory.
Conversely, Abeba and Maria are portrayed in needlessly negative fashions to create a grey blanket of morality which leaves the whole film rather rudderless. With no right or wrong, it doesn’t have anything at all to say. It’s a bold choice from Kjartansdóttir, and it may be down to the source material, but unfortunately it doesn’t pay off.
Special mention must go to Gunnarsdóttir too, whose face grows more and more gaunt as Gisella becomes increasingly unstable. The acting is strong all around, but none of the other actors are offered enough by the script to truly show their talents. The cinematography is good if not spectacular, with Ásgrímur Guðbjartsson manipulating Gisella’s cold and clinical house to create a sense of claustrophobia, paired with her deteriorating grasp of control.
The Deposit is a film that threatens to be great at times, but never realises this potential. It certainly suggests that Kjartansdóttir could create more excellent work in the future, despite her debut’s shortcomings. Her script lets her down, with inconsistent characters and a focus on the less interesting aspects of the story. It’s never boring however, and the strangeness might just keep you on your toes.
Ewan Wood |
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Drama | Iceland, 2019 | 12A | 2019 Edinburgh Film Festival | 30th June | Dir.Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir | Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir, Enid Mbabazi, Raffaella Sigurdardottir, Claire Harpa Kristinsdottir