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Óli Pétur With Spirit in His Hand

This short Icelandic documentary is titled Óli Pétur after the man whose life it chronicles and Undir áhrifumf – With spirit in his hand. The latter part’s signification could be interpreted as dual: Óli’s alcoholism on the one hand, as he wanders around and gets drunk on the streets of Reykjavik, and his optimism and a big heart on the other hand, as he helps his friends the best he can.


The documentary can roughly be split into three interwoven parts: interviews with Óli himself, interviews with some of his friends about him, and scenes where he interacts with other people on the streets of the Icelandic capital or around bus stops and parks. Whether it’s Óli talking about his financial woes or difficulties with his hospital visits, a good friend reminiscing their musical activities from the 80s or Óli’s generosity being showcased by his tendency to give needy friends gifts, despite his precarious monetary condition, all of these constructions evidence the traits of the character under study. Striking is his selflessness, both in the past, where he, for instance, helped friends by motivating them to paint for an art gallery exhibition and later on as well, where he is always willing to share a drink and give a motivational speech when needed.


All the film’s content is evoking and successful at depicting Óli’s character and worldview. The flow, however, is a bit chaotic, and does not exactly offer a chronological or cohesive depiction, but jumps from one thing to another without a harmonious link. Of course, given the context, it is very difficult to find a logical flow that is applicable to every instance and explored theme. Furthermore, the film does very well to tie everything up with an unexpected twist and a beautiful conclusion to the portrayed events. As mentioned before, this is less of a story and more of a character study, and it should be taken as a unitary whole rather than as a linear plotline.


Even more praiseworthy is how the documentary short does not insist on holding its audience’s hand, and instead leaves plenty of leeway in how the audiences can interpret it and what their main takeaways might be. One can regard this project as a biographical work about a drunk man who wanders around the streets of Reykjavik or can look at the broader picture and how it speaks about generosity, altruism, and selflessness.


Regardless of what the main locus of attention might be, "Óli Pétur With Spirit in His Hand" should provide an enjoyable experience that reflects on very humane traits and situations.

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