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    The Sea

    Sea creatures

    "The Sea," a watchable but calculated drama from the Icelandic director of "101 Reykjavik," features constant sniping among members of a well-to-do family under pressure at a time of economic change.


    Much less carefree than his previous film, "101 Reykjavik," Baltasar Kormákur's "The Sea" introduces us to an even bleaker Iceland. What kind of place is this Iceland?

    Original title: Hafid.
    Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur.
    Written by: Baltasar Kormákur, Olafur Simonarson.
    Cast: Gunnar Eyjolfsson, Hilmir Snaer Gudnason, HélŹne de Fougerolles, Sven Nordin, Kristbjorg Kjeld.
    In Icelandic and some English with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Agust (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason of "101 Reykjavik"), on the plane back home from France for an apocalyptic family reunion, recalls to his French girlfriend how his father described their bleak, inbred little island:

    " 'Idiots get raped by idiots,' he said. It's that kind of place."

    The ad campaign is pitching "The Sea" as a successor to "The Celebration," the brilliant family breakdown that launched the Danish Dogme 95 movement, but this movie doesn't have nearly the psychological intensity, layers of intrigue, or cinematic inventiveness of its predecessor. Still, it is a pretty strong drama of plots, counterplots, revelations and reriminations.

    The Sea  
    The best thing about the movie is how it underpins its psychological warfare with economic warfare. The family's aging patriarch, Thordur (Gunnar Eyjolfsson), runs the local small-town fishery — a position of power, since he has control of a sizeable fishing quota that a big conglomerate from out of town lusts to get its hands on. But he's not budging. He sees himself as protecting the quota on behalf of the townspeople and the immigrant workers who staff the packing plant.

    "It's their fishing quota, not ours," he instructs the son Agust. "We're just here to manage it."

    This dimension of the story is actually more interesting than the family-dysfunction angle. One undercurrent of the story is the slow strangulation of small-town life in this part of the world. As rumors spread about the possible sale of the fishery, townspeople figure that Thordur is about to do what everybody else with money is doing — cashing out and moving to Reykjavik. But in fact, he's the only one who feels at all mindful of the employees' and the community's survival; the children see that as a losing battle and they're eager to sell out as soon as possible.

      The Sea
    So the movie is partly about how old ways and working-class communities fall victim to economic change, the older residents becoming as obsolete as the antiquated plant that Thordur is desperate to keep in family hands. His more cupiditous kids are not necessarily wrong about the inevitability of change, but they show little understanding of what's being lost under the steamroller of progress.

    Meanwhile, the revelation of long-unspoken family secrets feels calculated. In their anger over their dwindling inheritance and their father's unwillingness to give up the helm, the children savage their father in a series of family conflagrations and he gives it back in his own way. This film is not nearly as canny as "The Celebration" about using the gradually emerging truth to challenge both the characters and the audience. It seems to simply dole out secrets at the points where convention says a plot development is needed. And with a rather chilly set of characters, this conflict is not as involving as was intended.

    The acting seems average, which doesn't help, but there are two characters who stand out a little. Gudrun Gisladottir plays Ragnheidur, the patriarch's rather severe daughter, who tends to memorably take charge of situations rather than brood about them. And Herdis Torvaldsdottir plays the feisty, smoking, drinking, cursing, headphone-wearing grandma Kata, adding a welcome breath of foul air to her dour surroundings.

    MAY 16, 2003

    Reader comments on The Sea:

  • LOVE   from finn, Aug 5, 2005
  • The Sea   from Jun, Dec 13, 2006

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