Bíó Paradís is the premiere bar for independent film in Iceland.

With Adventures: Endgame, Detective Pikachu and ToyStory 4 making 2019 an explosive year for cinema, visiting a small, alternative theatre for an edgy foreign film or independent movie may not be the top of everyone’s agenda. With the current screening going on at Bío Paradís, however, anyone in Reykjavík would be quite amiss to overlook it.

When the Raven Flies slipped past mainstream success after being snubbed from nomination for Best Foreign Film in the 1984 Oscars but developed a devoted following since. It has been voted the best Icelandic film of all time and is considered one of the greatest art pieces created about the Viking area.

Having a love of the Icelandic sagas, and Old Norse beliefs and history, I was thrilled to hear that it was being screened at my local independent theatre. I had heard much about it but seen no trace of it online or in shops. I did have my reservations that it would not be as good as my Icelandic friends had implored it would be, being dated and the subtitles perhaps taking away from it, but my misgivings were far wrong.

Please note that the trailer below is not for the faint-hearted.

A classic and timeless masterpiece, with a story as tight and well-woven as the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, it has by far stood the test of time. The film was restored digitally, so its quality was far better than I expected, and, as always at Bío Paradíse, the subtitles made no distraction to the events on screen.

What I had most hoped for the film to have all the things that make the sagas so fascinating. The desperation to cling to Paganism against the growing forces of Christianity; families being divided, betraying each other to the opposite side; men dedicating their lives to revenge; women using what little means they had to influence their violent families; the never-ending battle against nature and the ethereal, be it one God or many; the film has it all.

Before working at Guide to Iceland, I was lucky enough to be a tour guide, and see a lot of the country while doing so. I read a lot of Icelandic history and literature, so I felt comfortable telling stories of battles and clans, folklore and belief systems, to people from all over the world. 

Iceland is a beautiful country, but to imagine it in the Viking era can only be made possible with When the Raven Flies.

The film made me realise that no words about a millennium-old culture could ever do its importance and reality justice. Being able to visualise it through When the Raven Flies made me see the landscapes I’d known so well in a whole new way.

If I have been in any way vague, let me be clear: I absolutely loved the movie. And I was not alone; the theatre was abuzz after it, and the audience’s feeling for the film seemed pretty unanimous. My friends and I met a group from the United States, and we were sat by the bar speaking of it for hours after - oh yeah, because Bío Paradís also has a bar.

In fact, one of the most celebrated things about the theatre is its ambience. Rather than overpriced popcorn vendors and slushy machines, it boasts a sleek bar with a cosy seating area, making it quite as popular amongst those seeking a place to socialise as it is amongst movie-goers. 

Bíó Paradís is not just a cinema, but a bar and party space.

And at the end of the day, who’d rather sit through trailers for Fast and Furious 42 and Eddie Murphy’s newest soon-to-be-flops than have a glass of wine?

The venue often hosts events and parties for its film debuts; I was lucky enough to host one in drag with some fellow queens, promoting the incredible true story of a Brazillian gay man’s struggle with his identity. The staff were accommodating, enthusiastic and engaging with both us and the audience, and the filmmaker was present, both delivering a speech and answering questions.

Particularly great, however, were the clientele, both those there for a movie or there for a drink. Independent cinemas have a reputation for drawing an eclectic, somewhat pretentious crowd of hipsters and socialites, and while there were a few pretty terrible moustaches around, everyone I spoke to was a pleasure.

Wonda Starr at a film premiere at Bíó Paradís

Their event calendar is always worth a look, as you never know if your favourite independent filmmaker may be making their appearance or what kind of party may be happening. These events foster the isn’t the idea that Bío Paradíse is not a traditional cinema. Traditional cinemas are places you go to alone, on a date, or with a group of friends or family: all people you already know. This, however, is a place to enjoy works of art with strangers, to meet people with your interests and share your interpretations of the type of films you enjoy.

In that way, it embodies a part of Icelandic culture. What I’ve noticed throughout my time here is that Icelanders relish in social interaction with like-minded people, be it at the pool or in the hot-tubs; pursuing outdoor activities; or finding your tribe as an artist, musician or performer.

At the moment, When the Raven Flies is just one of many films on show. The theatre is replaying other Icelandic classics, such as Cold Fever and 101 Reykjavík, as well as newer movies such as the thriller Women at War and the Japanese film Shoplifters.

As someone who has bought every Pokémon game (the last two with a lengthy explanation to an entirely disinterested shopkeeper that it was for my nephew), I understand the need to see Detective Pikachu. As someone who was aghast that Bo Peep was just tossed away like a, well, child's doll in Toy Story 3, I understand the need to watch her valiant return in Toy Story 4. As someone who knows those many people with an obsession for superhero movies, I get it.

Those films, however, will online forever, and a chance to see When the Raven Flies come by like a blue moon. Anyone interested in history, literature, folklore, action, or just a simply great movie should get their tickets before this moon fades.

Check out what is going out at Bio Paradise here

Contact Richard