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Film Review

Hot Tub: Kristbjörg Kjeld and Hilmir Snær Guðnason
The Sea
by Jürgen Fauth

Guide Rating -  


Two years ago, Baltasar Kormákur brought us the slacker comedy "Reijkavik 101," which was entertaining enough but felt somehow superfluous -- hadn't we seen this story about an aimless hero with not much interest in anything many times before? What made the film interesting nonetheless was Kormákur's astute sense of place. Everything seemed more extreme, more exposed, more vital in the merciless glare of Iceland.

In "The Sea," Kormákur takes us away from the city to a small, rugged fishing village where those who own the ships and factories are the acknowledged rulers. Not even the local police can touch Thordur (Gunnar Eyjólfsson) and his family. Yet the grizzled, stubborn patriach is under assult -- his factory, run by his duplicitous son Haraldur (Sigurður Skúlason), isn't effective enough, and there's a problem with an economic McGuffin called "the fishing quota." Whatever that maybe be, it's not good for Thordur, and so he summons his far flung and estranged family to his frostbitten corner of the world.

As in Thomas Vinterberg's vicious hit "The Celebration," Thordur's family turns out to be a mean-spirited lot. The best candidate for a bearer of our sympathies is Agust, the younger son, played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason. Sent to Paris to study businessl, he secretly abandons his studies to become a musician. Agust brings his pregnant girlfriend Françoise (Hélène de Fougerolles), which upsets Agust's rebellious cousin Kristín (Kristbjörg Kjeld) to an inordinate degree. Sister Ragnheiður (Guðrún Gísladóttir) is not exactly the kind and meek sort, either.

The bickering and infighting quickly reach Shakespearean dimensions, and of course there's more than a little bit of "King Lear" in the scenario. Beneath the heavy winter clothing, there are heaps of long-held grudges and age-old lies. Soon, hot emotions are played out against the icy, barren landscape that towers beautifully above the puny humans and their petty hatreds.

I spent the first half of "The Sea" laughing at the bizarre situations and outrageous characters which could fit comfortably into "Twin Peaks." But eventually, the balance tips to the tragic. Barbs turn into cruelties. Kormákur is more successful at the dark humor than the farcial horror, and the line between the two blurs, but there's a point where you catch yourself laughing when it's long past funny.

At its climax, "The Sea" offers incest, alleged murder, attempted patricide, breaking and entering, sex for money, arson, and throwing policemen into the sea along with their cars. Also, black sheep. (I'm not giving anything away here because the opening credits anticipate the end.) For its unique mix of fire and ice, "The Sea" deserves to be seen.

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