At 44, actor-director Baltasar Kormakur may soon be Iceland's most famous export since Bjork. And now, with his first American film, Inhale, reaching theaters today (10/22/10) in limited release, his profile could expand.
Inhale stars Dermot Mulroney, Diane Kruger and Sam Shepard in a drama about so-called organ tourism -- the desperate efforts of people in need of organ transplants to shop for them in a secretive black-market culture in Mexico and elsewhere. Mulroney and Kruger play the parents of a terminally-ill daughter who needs a new set of lungs. But Mulroney, as an upright prosecutor, finds himself pushed to make harder and harder choices when he starts looking for organs in Juarez.
A star of theater and film in Iceland as an actor, Kormakur began developing an international reputation when he directed his first film, 101 Reykjavik, in 2000. Since then, he has directed a steady stream of films and theater projects -- but Inhale is his first to be shot outside of Iceland. He talked about the issues the film raises and his career aspirations in a recent telephone interview.
Q: With its depiction of the lawless street life in Juarez, Inhale probably won't win many awards from the Juarez Chamber of Commerce.
A: Juarez is like Dodge City. There were literally hundreds of women being killed there. While we were shooting, 10 policemen were killed. There were shootings all the time. The police are corrupt; the whole situation is very desperate. We didn't shoot much there. We had to create our own version so we shot in Las Vegas, N.M. No insurance company would cover us if we shot in Juarez because of the situation there.
Q: Where did this story come from?
A: I was sent a version of the script a few years back and thought it was an interesting story. It's this world that's not usually shown. I found out the situation down there was quite horrific, with Russian grandmothers selling their grandchildren for the organ trade. I couldn't believe how bad it was. I thought the script was an interesting way of opening up that world and talking about it. I've been making films in Iceland. I thought this was an interesting way to make a movie elsewhere that would captivate an audience.
Q: The film raises issues about the morality and fairness of the availability of organs for transplant, suggesting that some providers in the black market commit murder to harvest healthy organs and that poverty also is a driving factor.
A: We all know that part of our lives is based on other people suffering. We participate in it with blindness. Once people get to know those things, they change their lives. I'm not pointing fingers. Dermot's character, in the beginning, is a man of principle. Principles are important. In the course of the story, he does bend his principles. But he comes to a point where he can't. To me, the most important thing is leaving the audience to decide for itself. My bottom line is that nobody has the right to take another life.