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SEA, THE (Hafið)(director/writer/producer: Baltasar Kormákur; screenwriter: from the play by Olafur Haukur Símonarson; cinematographer: Jean-Louis Vialard; editors: Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir/Valdís Óskarsdóttir; music: Jón Ásgeirsson; cast: Gunnar Eyjólfsson (Þórður), Hilmir Snær Guðnason (Ágúst), Hélène de Fougerolles (Françoise), Kristbjörg Kjeld (Kristín), Sven Nordin (Morten), Guðrún Gísladóttir (Ragnheiður), Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir (Maria), Sigurður Skúlason (Haraldur), Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir (Áslaug), Erlingur Gíslason (Mangi), Theódór Júliusson (Bóbó), Herdís Þorvaldsdóttir (Kata) Þórir Gunnar Jónsson (Teenager); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jean-François Fonlupt; Palm Pictures/Lions Gate; 2002-Iceland-in Icelandic and English, with English subtitles)
“It was all so pointless.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Icelandic director/writer Baltasar Kormákur’s (“101 Reykjavic“) The Sea is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional Icelandic fishing family living in a depressing isolated small fishing village. It was adapted from the play by Olafur Haukur Símonarson, who makes his tale similar to Shakespeare’s King Lear. Only it descends into an outlandish modern-day overwrought melodramatic soap opera tale, with hardly the same punch as Shakespeare’s timeless lyrical drama (What did you expect, another Shakespearean masterpiece?). The oddball humor is strictly Icelandic, which might not translate all that well to others. It also piles on a lot of red herrings on its plate which might not be appetizing to many a viewer, and Kormákur also brews up an overflow of emotions with enough tears to fill an ocean (well, maybe only a pool). Every character plays the fool, from the main ones to the bit players. The local cop Bóbó is a drunk, an idiot, and a sex pervert, in the end he goes from grabbing Maria’s titties to chasing down a sheep. Maria’s a cousin of the ruthless Thordur’s (Gunnar Eyjólfsson) miserable family, who is hopelessly in love with the elderly bearded patriarch’s youngest son. But he will not have anything to do with her because she’s really his half-sister. Thordur’s mother Kata is a vulgar woman, who enjoys herself by hurting someone else’s feelings through her caustic barbs (her talk about eating herrings and farting probably makes her the most pleasant one of the bunch). A nonverbal teenager son of Thordur’s daughter Ragnheidur (Gísladóttir) is so maladjusted and surly, that he spray cans his hostile family’s SUV with dollar signs. The miserable weather and wretched environment, reflect the melancholy nature of the locals. They all have work due to the fishing industry, but everyone seems to have a lousy temperament and can’t stand living in such an idiotic place. That is, except for Thordur. He’s finished writing his memoir, where he tells all revealing some dark family secrets. What the wealthy Thordur is most interested in maintaining is his fish processing plant and living out his life in this village he loves more than anything else, but because he failed to modernize he is experiencing hard financial times and his fishery only seems to hire mostly immigrants to clean the fish (the other places all use machines).

Thordur summons his children home, hoping to straighten out his pressing affairs by suggesting he’s about to divide up his kingdom. He is disappointed with all three children Haraldur, Ágúst, and Ragnheidur. Haraldur (Skúlason) is the eldest and has remained at home and worked at the fishery since he was 10, expecting to be rewarded with the fishery upon his father’s death. Because he’s such a weasel, he is the one Thordur distrusts and despises the most. The father knows Haraldur is diddling with the books and is trying to trick him into merging his fishery against his will with a big trawler company and to sell off his fishing quotas to them. Thordur stubbornly refuses to believe in progress and that he could possibly be wrong about anything, and he also feels strongly about a sense of community and wishes to save jobs by keeping the business in his hands (even though the locals won’t work in his fishery and benefit from his concerns about their welfare). Haraldur’s harlot-like wife Áslaug is selfish, demanding and a lush. She runs a failed punk clothing store and is a neglectful mother to their three spoiled children, and connives to get hubby to forge his father’s signature on business deals. They hope they can talk or trick his father into moving to a hospice in Reykjavik–even though that’s the last thing their father wants– so that they can run the business. Haraldur’s younger brother Ágúst (Guðnason) is a whiny aspiring songwriter living in Paris with his concert flutist girlfriend Françoise, who is pregnant. Ágúst despises his father so much that he hasn’t even told him the truth that he’s not studying business, though he lives the good bohemian Parisian life off the money his father periodically sends for educational expenses. Françoise convinces the self-pitying Ágúst to return home, accompanied by her, in order to see what his father wants and if they can reconcile before his father dies. Ragnheidur is a drunk with a nasty disposition, and acts out her problems in an outrageous and socially unacceptable way. She is a failed filmmaker of commercials, having fled the homeland to study in Poland. She arrives by SUV with her boorish Norwegian hubby Morten and moronic video-game playing troubled teenager son, and has nothing but scorn and venom for her father. The children’s mother had died and their father to their dismay had married her sister Kristin (Kjeld), after having a long affair with her while his wife was alive and suffering. The children hate Kristin as much as their father.

There’s so much hate to deal with and not one character shows anything about themselves that is sympathetic, as all the skeletons come out of the family closet by the time the father realizes it’s too late to salvage this shipwreck of a family. The problem with The Sea is that the script was not that interesting, the acting was not that great, and the results were less than sea worthy. But what irked me the most, was that I had to sit through all this heavy-handed depiction of misery and it was all so pointless and humorless, at least, to my American ears. By the time it makes its redundant point that the children are nasty like their overbearing father because they are ‘chips off the old block’ paying for his sins, I felt like I was sea sick and needed only to get back on pavement.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”