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The Sea

The Sea

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Starring Gunnar Eyjólfsson, Sigurour Skúlason, Hilmir Snær Guonason, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Hélène de Fougerolles, Gudrun S. Gísladóttir, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir. (2003, NR, 109 min.)

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., June 20, 2003

Colder and bleaker than the Icelandic countryside in winter, this domestic psychodrama by the director of 101 Reykjavík does Mike Leigh proud, combining family dysfunction with class consciousness, dark humor, industrial collapse, and drunken histrionics – all in the course of an overnight get-together. Add a bit of incest and a randy black ram who’s been tormenting the local police, and you have a tale that’s often compelling and often wryly funny, even if it is herky-jerky in its dramatic pitch and ultimately a very flawed film. Thordur (Eyjólfsson), a bearded and dour fishing baron, totters around on two canes in his old age but is still full of piss, rebuffing offers to modernize or sell his business. He still believes in fish scaled by hand – putting members of the community, not machines and managers, to work. Yet his empire is collapsing, causing him to cling more fiercely to his fading dreams. Completing his memoirs, he summons his estranged family together: sons Ágúst (Guonason) and Haraldur (Skúlason), daughter Ragnheidur (Gísladóttir), and their significant others. Ágúst is the prodigal son, writing music abroad instead of studying business, and Ragnheidur is a harridan with a severe black pageboy, a glad-handing cable-knit husband, and a Range Rover. Meanwhile, Haraldur simpers about, cowed by his greedy wife (Elva Osk Olafsdottir), a bourgeois grotesque with a flaming red updo and a garish boutique. At first the trajectory of the narrative (from the stage play by Olafur Haukur Símonarson), suggests a sort of snowbound King Lear – Ágúst is the honest child, the only one who isn’t faking his love or preparing to screw the old man out of his business. But as the night drags on, the aquavit flows and family secrets come to light, it seems that no one is worthy of the kingdom. That’s partly the problem with The Sea – there’s not a sympathetic character in the bunch, outside of Ágúst’s pregnant French girlfriend (in the role, de Fougerolles has a lovely Madonna-like quality). This is likely to create a problem for viewers; even in Leigh’s most acid satires one can find the possibility of redemption. The other problem with The Sea is that its stage-play origins are too palpable, with the cast broadcasting their conflicts to the back of the house rather than the camera. Call it overacting, call it underdirecting – either way, there are so many angry confrontations and drunken meltdowns that the film is hard to watch for the wrong reasons. That said, there are reasons to recommend the movie to enterprising viewers, those of you shrinking in fear from 2 Fast 2 Furious. Thordur is an intriguingly paradoxical character, showering his children with money and praise while chastising them for their laziness and good fortune. As Thordur’s browbeaten second wife, Kjeld gives a stalwart performance; her third-act revelation is an oasis of skillful understatement. And there’s something to be said for the crotchety grandmother, who hates Coke so much that she proclaims it poured "on the parched gums of the damned" in hell.
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