The Sea

"OK"

The Sea Review


Taking its cue from Thomas Vinterberg's chilling family reunion drama The Celebration, Baltasar Kormákur's The Sea - the Icelandic entry for Best Foreign Film in this year's Academy Awards - charts a disastrous family gathering brought about by a craggily patriarchal figure determined to see -- and torment -- his brood one last time before death. But whereas Vinterberg's film, shot according to the tenets of Dogme 95's "vow of chastity," was made harrowing by its bleakly naturalistic style, Kormákur's film tells its tale of sins passed down from father to children with a big-budget professionalism. Kormákur's widescreen compositions have the silken iciness of an arctic wind, and though his self-conscious direction has an undeniable loveliness, it also calls attention to his story's flimsiness.

The local fishing magnate Thórdur (Gunnar Eyjólfsson) is an arrogant, selfish, and self-righteous man, and his refusal to modernize his plant has resulted in the loss of market share to his rival corporate competition. Desperate to place his fish processing plant in good hands before he dies, Thórdur demands that his children come to visit, even though none care much for their blustery father. Ágúst (Hilmir Snær Gudnason), Thórdur's youngest child, is supposed to be attending business school on his father's tab, but has abandoned his studies for a life as a songwriter with his beautiful (and pregnant) Parisian girlfriend Françoise (Hélène de Fougerolles). Ragnheidur (Gudrún S. Gísladóttir), Thórdur's daughter, is a bitter woman married to nebbish wimp Morten (Sven Nordin) and the mother of a spoiled son, and remains haunted by crimes committed against her as a child. Thórdur's loyal first son Haraldur (Sigurdur Skúlason), who has worked at his father's plant since the age of 10, covertly despises the old man, and is eager to take over and sell the business so that he and his greedy, gaudy wife Áslaug (Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir) can enjoy the spoils of wealth. All three detest Thórdur's second wife Kirstín (Kristbjörg Kjeld), the sister of their long-deceased mother, while their cousin María (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir), still living with Thórdur and Kirstín, harbors romantic feelings for Ágúst. Suffice to say, theirs is a mightily dysfunctional family.

While The Sea will certainly teach American moviegoers more about the Icelandic fishing industry than they probably ever wanted to know (for example, the concept of quotas, which allow fishermen to specialize in catching certain types of fish), the film is primarily preoccupied with being a Shakespearean tragedy. Long-dormant secrets come into the light as the children - who've matured into warped versions of their father - attempt to force Thórdur into selling the business, hoping that his relinquishment of the fishing plant may also bring an end to his domineering control (monetarily and otherwise) of their lives. Yet while much of the premise seems heavily borrowed from Vinterberg's influential film (which, in turn, borrowed from King Lear), the most telling distinction between the two films comes in Kormákur's characterization of Ágúst, Ragnheidur, and Haraldur, who share some of the blame for their unhappy fates. Thórdur may have set them on their course, but as the film spirals into a tangled web of deception, blackmail, adultery, greed, and cruelty, the children and their respective partners-in-crime reveal themselves to be far from blameless innocents.

As Thórdur, Eyjólfsson brings a stern gravity to a role that requires little more than unwavering cruelty and obstinacy, and his scenes with Snær Gudnason (Ágúst) boil with long-simmering resentment and fury. Ágúst, unwilling to take the reigns of the family business, is the film's most fleshed-out figure, and Snær Gudnason effortlessly commingles barely-suppressed rage with ebullient hope that the future will be far less grim than the present. The problem is that the director, working from his screenplay based on Olafur Haukur Símonarson's play, stuffs too many characters and subplots (including commentary on the changing demographics of the Icelandic countryside) into his overcrowded family portrait, and eventually winds up stranding some of his performers - especially Filippusdóttir's Maria and Nordin's Morten - with thinly-sketched character outlines rather than believably three-dimensional roles. The Sea is packed to the gills with a plethora of supporting players (the goofy cop, the comedic grandmother, the aggravated store owner), but instead of giving the film a Chekhovian grandeur, it merely results in an unwieldy Alan Rudolph-esque mess.

Kormákur's previous film, 101 Reykjavik, was a rather amusing sexual comedy about a good-for-nothing's ennui-infused dalliances, and The Sea wisely alleviates the pressure of its downcast plot with humorous tangents involving a rascally wild ram, Ragnheidur's son's disgust with his family's infatuation with money (culminating in an act of vandalism to his parents' Range Rover), and Haraldur's bratty pizza-loving kids. Kormákur, with the aid of Jean-Louis Vialard's luscious anamorphic widescreen cinematography, captures the frigid vastness and emptiness of the towering mountainous setting, and there are random moments - such as the sight of a wrecking ball destroying a land-locked boat - that beautifully encapsulate the film's strange mixture of absurdity and misery. Unfortunately, much of the film's power is also drained by these constant diversionary shifts in attention. As the film plods forward to its inevitable fiery conclusion - shown, without context, at the film's outset - it's hard not to feel that this frosty ground has been tilled before, and with significantly less narrative dilly-dallying.

Aka Hafið.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 109 mins

In Theaters: Friday 13th September 2002

Distributed by: Palm Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Fresh: 27 Rotten: 26

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Claire

Contactmusic


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