‘Touch’: Review | Reviews | Screen

‘Touch’: Review | Reviews | Screen

Director: Baltasar Kormákur. Iceland/UK. 2024 120 minutes

A dementia diagnosis in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic is the catalyst for taciturn Icelandic restaurateur Kristofer (Egill Ólafsson) to close his Reykjavik restaurant and head to London in the hope of reuniting with a Japanese woman he loved and lost there 50 years ago. On paper, it may sound like the premise of a sentimental tearjerker – and there are moments of high emotion – but director Baltasar Kormákur and his actors err on the side of restraint, delivering a balanced, gripping human drama.

Balanced, engaging human drama

Kormákur, known for his action films Everest And Drifting, here he returns to the character-driven roots of his 2000 debut 101 RekyavikReleased in the US on July 12 and in the UK on August 30, and supported by positive reviews, To touch For example, it may attract viewers looking for more adult content Despicable Me 4 (It will be released on the same date in the US.) It will eventually have a long tail on the air as well.

In a quick-fire opening sequence, we see septuagenarian Kristofer receive the news that he is in the early stages of dementia. Having lived alone in Reykjavik following the death of his wife several years earlier, Kristofer takes this information with typical stoicism. Icelandic actor Ólafsson, who himself has Parkinson’s, brings a quiet gravitas to the role. Kristofer’s decision to leave his home for London in the hope of tracking down the Japanese woman he fell in love with in 1969 may be impulsive—especially considering this is 2020, with a pandemic lockdown looming and borders closing—but it never comes across as foolish. This isn’t a man desperate for one last fling, but someone trying to find closure before it’s too late.

The script by Kormákur and Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson (who wrote the source novel) quickly takes us through a flashback of Kristofer (here played by the director’s son Pálmi Kormákur), a charismatic, idealistic student at the London School of Economics. Fed up with his ‘bourgeois’ work that conflicts with his Marxist ideologies, he takes a job washing dishes at the Japanese restaurant Nippon – attracted as much by the owner Takahashi-san’s (Masahiro Motoki) beautiful daughter Miko (model Kōki Kimura), as by his desire to earn an honest wage.

These long flashbacks are shot in a softer tone by Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson, with occasional moments of lens flare that mimic the hazy warmth of memory and the sepia tone of nostalgia. Shot against a vibrant, instantly recognizable period soundtrack (John Lennon, The Zombies), these scenes are also full of life and noise—a stark contrast to the scenes set in 2020, when Kristofer wanders the empty streets and is the sole guest in his London hotel. Human connection becomes all the more impossible, which makes a long scene in which Kristofer befriends a widow in a Japanese sake bar all the more poignant.

There are also briefer flashbacks to Kristofer’s time in Iceland with his wife. Editor Sigurður Eyþórsson expertly weaves these throughout the narrative, so that the different timelines work together to create a fuller picture of a life. This is helped greatly by Högni Egilsson’s gentle score, which acts as connective tissue, and the quality of the performances. It’s easy to see how the idealistic, poetic young Kristofer develops into a more pragmatic older man, and how his experiences with Miko shape his entire life. The chemistry between the two young people is palpable, made extra powerful by the fact that they have to keep their burgeoning relationship a secret from Takahashi-san, who exerts authoritarian control over Miko’s personal life.

And that’s where the story expands. The family escapes Hiroshima in 1945 and then moves from Tokyo to London after the death of Miko’s mother, trying to escape the stigma attached to Miko, who was pregnant with her when the atomic bomb was dropped on their hometown. This still casts a shadow over her life in London, despite her defiant attitude and Mary Quant miniskirts, and eventually creates a rift between her and Kristofer.

There’s a low-key urgency to much of the film, with events driven by the ticking clock of Kristofer’s diagnosis and the tightening of the epidemic, all building up to the point where Kristofer finds Miko (now played by the film’s casting director, Yoko Narahashi), living in Hiroshima. Still, as their stories come full circle and long-standing emotions finally come to the fore, there’s a sense of stillness, peace — and, despite past and present uncertainties — new beginnings.

Production companies: RVK Studios

Worldwide distribution: Focus Features

Producers: Mike Goodridge, Agnes Johanson

Screenplay: Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson, Baltasar Kormákur

Director of Photography: Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson

Production design: Sunneva Ása Weisshappel

Edited by: Sigurdur Eyþórsson

Music: Hogni Egilsson

Leading Cast: Egill Ólafsson, Palmi Kormákur, Kōki Kimura, Yoko Narahashi, Meg Kubota