Ísold Uggadóttir delivers a powerful, moving film with her debut feature And Breathe Normally. Moral dilemmas and complex social issues are conveyed in a restrained, visual language, evoking an almost documentary feel. Lara (Kristín Thóra Haraldsdóttir) is a single mother struggling to get by and trying to give her five-year-old son Eldar (Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson) a warm home. They live on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland, and the film opens on a view of a boxy apartment complex surrounded by cheerless, barren ground; a desolate landscape evoking the sense that there is no one to turn to, nowhere to run.
In an understated manner, following Lara at the grocery store, cat rescue shelter, Eldar’s school and at home, the attentive viewer will find clues to her past, that explain some of the circumstances of her present predicament, and her determination to survive and provide for her son. Removing her nose ring and putting a uniform on her tattooed body, she dresses for her newly acquired job as a border security trainee at Keflavik airport. Eager to succeed, she diligently takes notes, and one cannot help but root for this resolute woman striving for self-sufficiency and a better future. It is there at the border control that Lara’s path crosses that of Adja (Babetida Sadjo), a refugee from Guinea-Bissau, hoping to make her way to Canada with a false passport.
The film calls attention to moral dilemmas, and the moral choices we make in our daily lives, often unaware. Uggadóttir presents the characters and their circumstances, although extreme, in an unsentimental manner that invites the viewer’s empathy. Kristín Thóra Haraldsdóttir is a scrappy, very stubborn, and resilient Lara. Despite her tough exterior, past mis-steps, and independence that verges on pushing everyone away, she has a great capacity for love, and a desire to do what is right. In Adja, one finds a character who has known danger and suffering, yet remains not only capable of compassion, but perhaps even more attuned to the suffering of others. Babetida Sadjo conveys Adja’s warmth and intelligence in a very natural, relatable manner. In this cold, harsh, climate, Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson’s Eldar is a small, yet very bright, beacon of light.