The Sea (Hafið)



Robin Clifford
Robin Clifford 
The Sea (Hafið)
Laura Clifford
Laura Clifford 
The patriarch of an affluent Icelandic family calls together his adult children in something that is akin to a reunion. The pampered siblings, raised in the lap of luxury all of their lives, are about to find out that things have changed when papa declares that he is no longer going to foot the bills for them and their world is turned upside down in "The Sea."

Robin:
Helmer Baltasar Kormakur, following his amusing debut in the low budget but effective "101 Reykjavik," has taken a leap forward and a step back with his sophomore effort, "The Sea." This Icelandic family drama represents a progression for the director in that he shows a good deal of maturity and ability in crafting his work. But, he has taken on a shrill story, from the play by Olafur Haukur Smmonarson, about the aging Thordur (Gunnar Eyjolfsson), the owner of a fish processing plant near Reykjavik, whose business is on a steady decline. He calls for the return of his three children to the homestead where he intends to drop a bomb.

Once gathered, dad announces that he holds no further financial responsibility for his three children. He has an accounting on what he has spent to raise and educate them all and that is all they will get from him as he plans to dismantle his business. It's kind of like a reversal of "King Lear."

The utter dourness of this tale of family conflict and controversy is tempered with an oddball sense of humor with some quirky little touches. One such touch is the family's grandmother (Herdis Thorvaldsdottir) who has a mouth like a sailor, chain-smokes and carries an air that states that she is beyond the conflict facing her family. Another whimsical note involves a renegade ram that shows up at any old place at any old time and is the bane of the local police.

Besides the family drama, Kormakur also makes a statement about local versus global economy and how the world is closing in on the small fishing island of Iceland. The melding of local life and the expansion of the world economy is depicted, succinctly, on a visit to Thordur's plant where we see the native Icelandic residents working side-by-side with the Asian immigrants who have come to the remote island nation to seek prosperity, something that is not about to happen.

"The Sea" doesn't have the same raw sparkle of "101 Reykjavik" and certainly lacks much of the latter's whimsical wonder but it does represent a leap in filmmaking craft for Kormakur. It is a much more complex effort, though, and it will be interesting, at least, to watch the career of this young director as he makes his place as both an Icelandic and international filmmaker. I give it a B-.

Laura:
Agust (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason, "101 Reykjavik") is in Paris writing songs instead of attending the business school his father is paying for and sister Ragnheidur (Gudrun S. Gisladottir, "The Sacrifice") is shooting commercials in Poland while henpecked brother Haraldur (Sigurdur Skulason, "No Such Thing") struggles to run the family fish processing business in their small Icelandic hometown.  Father Thordur (Gunnar Eyjolfsson, "101 Reykjavik") calls his scattered family home to make a mysterious announcement in cowriter/director Baltasar Kormakur's ("101 Reykjavik") "The Sea."

A wrecking ball crushes a fishing boat as Thordur rails against the senior citizens watching their way of life vanish.  "Why live in Iceland if it's not economically feasible?"  In Paris, Francoise (Helene De Fougerolles, "Va Savoir") demands that Agust face his father and on the plane he describes Iceland as the type of place where his sister Maria (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir) was abused before she was confirmed at the age of twelve.  Daddy's pet, Maria bombs about the countryside in a Cadillac taunting local policeman Bobo (Theódór Júliusson, "No Such Thing") and assisting grandmother Kata (Herdís Þorvaldsdóttir) buying cognac at the local liquor store. Haraldur struggles with his alcoholic wife Aslaug (Elva Osk Olafsdottir) who runs a clothing boutique with sexy merchandise mismatched with immigrant customers smelling of fish.  The family's skeletons peak out of the closet with Agust's introductions of Francoise - Maria's happy face turns to stone and family matriarch Kristin (Kristbjorg Kjeld, "No Such Thing") is described as 'my father's second wife and my mother's sister.'

When Ragnheidur completes the reunion with her ineffectual husband Morten (Sven Nordin, "Elling") and catatonic teenager in tow, the family seem to spar with good nature, but Thordur learns that Agust will not take over the business from Haraldur and so makes his proclamation.  The man who is accused of unsound mind and body stands firm and assesses his progeny with clear-eyed conviction.  Left without an anchor, the brood lose all self-control and each descends into the secret past they'd all left to put behind them.

Kormakur and cowriter Olafur Haukur Simonarson take the themes of the overrated Dogme film "The Celebration," turn them inside out and infuse them with global economics, black humor and some of the quirks of the coastal "Local Hero."  Dysfunction is not centralized in this film's patriarch, who when describing Iceland as a place where 'idiots rape idiots' could be talking about his own children.  Kormakur and his cast build intriguing characters, but their downfall becomes muddled and the story deflates at its climax.

Gudnason fails to make a strong impression as Agust, which works for the character of a weak underachiever.  Helene De Fougerolles is vibrant as the family outsider who sanely asks 'What's wrong with you people?  Is the truth the only thing you can not tell each other?'  Newcomer Filippusdottir's Maria seems to be channeling "Written on the Wind's" Dorothy Malone with Gisladottir and Olafsdottir completing a vampiric trio. Gunnar Eyjolfsson, with his full head and face of gray hair and double canes which hinder him little, embodies the old salt, frequently framed with panoramas of the raging sea as his background.  The King Lear-like figure admits the sentiment he's refused his children when he remarks to Francoise that 'Bach was also a good businessman and he had eighteen children who all loved him.' Kjeld's appearance and matronly manner belie her complicity.  Þorvaldsdóttir provides the comic relief as the cognac swilling, cigarette smoking senior who escapes from the madness behind her headphones when she's not making sharp-eyed observations.

Kormakur provides a desolate, modern family manse set against striking landscape as his focal location for drama, while excursions into town often provide humorous touches such as the ram that wanders through village businesses no matter how many times its returned to the mountains by Bobo.

"The Sea" is a storm of raging characters whose revelations are too obliquely tied to Karmakur's economic musings.

B-
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