Iceland might be the easiest place in the world to mythologize,and Jordan Manley does what so many other filmmakers and writers have done — at the beginning of the latest installment of his A Skier’s Journey series, he goes straight to Iceland’s biggest cliche, the people’s supposed belief in trolls and elves. But in this case, it isn’t a mistake. Rather, he lets an Icelander talk about it, in slow, measured consideration that makes you do the same.
“You ask a lot of people and they say, ‘I can’t say I believe in it, but my grandmother did and who am I to say that she is wrong?’ ”
Manley lingers over the idea long enough that you understand why the superstition first arose and why it echoes today — Iceland’s landscape and its ever-shifting moods stand apart from our normal expectations of how a place should be, and the only way to explain it, it seems, is with magic and the supernatural.
Fortunately, he moves on and you learn a little about the rugged life in Iceland’s Westfjords, where people made a living dragging driftwood from Siberia across mountains to sell to farmers. This, of course, is a land where trees are sparse and stunted. As the joke goes, what do you do if you’re lost in a forest in Iceland? Stand up. In the end, though, I suspect that Iceland doesn’t need jokes or myths to explain itself, or words at all. Iceland is a place you feel, and with these pictures both moving and still, Manley does that as well as anyone.