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Olaf Olafsson’s book can be wonderfully played on the screen

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“Touch” begins with a choir singing directly into the camera in a lonely Icelandic landscape. A red church can be seen in the background. The rest is white with snow. The song is as eerily beautiful as the setting.

Director Baltasar Kormákur captures the unique flair of Nordic loneliness and loneliness. And although it doesn’t seem to fit the film, the song will be important later. It has a lonely quality that suits the widower Kristópher.

We meet him at the beginning of the pandemic, when he is forced to close his restaurant. His house is filled with remnants of a full life: photos of his late wife, their daughter, memorabilia that were once cozy but now seem to embody loss.

But this loss doesn’t seem to bother Kristópher, at least not directly. Rather, he is faced with a more pressing loss – that of his memory. With the news that he is suffering from dementia, Kristópher returns to a secret that has haunted him since his student days in London.

Which book is the movie “Touch” based on?

“Touch” is based on Olaf Olafsson’s book of the same name and deals with the desire for a solution. The older Kristópher, played by Egill Ólafsson, leaves Reykjavik to search for his first love, who disappeared without a word half a century ago.

As a young man, Kristópher (the younger one, played by Palmi Kormákur) dropped out of the prestigious London School of Economics to become a dishwasher in a Japanese restaurant. Kristópher has strong socialist, almost communist, views and is challenged by his friends to make good on his word and “leave school” to back up his beliefs. He takes the plunge and asks for a job at Nippon, a neighborhood restaurant.

His desire to stay in Nippon is not based on political idealism, but on love at first sight. Charmed by Miko (Kôki), the restaurant owner’s daughter, Kristópher does what any soft-hearted and lovesick boy would do: he starts learning everything he can about Japan and the Japanese language.

His Japanophilia is fed by the warm embrace of the restaurant staff. The owner, Takahashi-san (Masahiro Motoki), helps Kristópher study, teaches him to cook, and encourages Kristópher to try his hand at writing haiku.

Miko, on the other hand, resents her father’s strict rules. It is the late 1960s and Miko is a woman of that time. She wants to go out, have a boyfriend and live her life freely. But her father’s strictness is based on an underlying fear that we only discover later.

Out of fear, Takahashi-san abruptly closes his restaurant and disappears from London with his daughter almost without a trace.

What is the movie “Touch” about?

Back in the present, the elderly Kristópher, confronted with the reality of his dementia, tracks Miko’s return to Japan. He then flies to Japan to look for her.

Touch is deep and full of meaning. The film is set both during the pandemic, when touching was socially forbidden, and in the late ’60s, when societal norms around relationships were being tested. As such, there is a subtle and beautiful interplay with the meaning of the word.

Writer Olaf Olafsson collaborated on the screenplay and his intentions are palpable throughout. The film is shot through with literary beauty, challenging you to examine what it means to reach out and touch someone – or to let someone touch you.

Both the physical and the metaphysical are beautifully orchestrated.

Director Baltasar Kormákur interprets Olaf Olafsson’s story in a gentle way

Director Baltasar Kormákur, who has directed many action films before, handles this delicate story of love, loss and searching with a lighter touch. There is a subtle difference in color and tone in the different eras, with Kristópher’s youth bathed in a warmer light. The older Kristópher is surrounded by cool grays and blues and a sterile feeling that is not only due to the pandemic.

It’s rare that a film based on a book makes me want to actually read the book, but given Kormákur and Olafsson’s creativity, I’m tempted to make Touch my summer read.

Contact Kaely Monahan at [email protected]. Follow her on our podcasts Valley 101 and The Gaggle and X, formerly known as Twitter, @KaelyMonahan.

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