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The tempests roil in a Scandinavian sea town

A family rife with stormy relationships populates 'The Sea,' set in Iceland. But don't expect it to make a stir.

May 23, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur made a splash with his sexy debut picture "101 Reykjavic," but his follow-up film, "The Sea," is unlikely to make much of a stir. It is the latest "King Lear" variation, this one set down in a remote fishing village, enabling it also to serve as a critical commentary on how the big corporations are driving the smaller fisheries and independent fishermen out of business.

Kormakur adapted "The Sea" from Olafur Haukur Simonarson's play, and the film's theatrical origins are all too obvious. That the characters are all hugely unsympathetic is compounded by the sense that there's not a whole lot of point to this unpleasant experience. At least it can be said that Kormakur gleefully serves up unrelieved nastiness with nonstop energy.

Gunnar Eyjolfsson's Thordur is a fierce, bearded patriarch dedicated to keeping his fishery afloat against all odds. He has a profound sense of obligation to his workers and to his fishermen that does not extend to his family; he has been an indifferent and sometimes worse father to his three adult children, and they hate him for it. Having just completed his no-holds-barred memoirs, he believes his children are entitled to hear about its contents before publication, including his plans for the disposal of his beloved fishery upon his death.

From Paris, where he is supposedly studying business but is in fact struggling to become a songwriter at his father's expense, comes Agust ("101 Reykjavik" star Hilmir Snaer Gudnason), with his pregnant French girlfriend (Helene de Fougerolles) in tow. Arriving in their shiny new Range Rover are Thordur's daughter, Ragnheidur (Gudrun S. Gisladottir), an embittered, ravaged-looking failed filmmaker and her handsome but pompous Norwegian husband, Morten (Sven Nordin), and their juvenile-delinquent teenage son. Rounding out Thordur's children is his miserable older son, Haraldur (Sigurdur Skulason), who sees a merger as the only way to save the family business he helps manage; his even more miserable wife, Aslaug (Elva Osk Olafsdottir), who like Ragnheider is a nasty drunk and who wonders why her punk clothing shop, more suitable to Melrose Avenue than a fishing village in Iceland, is a flop.

Thordur shares his home with his dutiful second wife, Kristin (Kristbjorg Kjeld), who married him after her sister, his first wife and the mother of his children, died; Kristin's daughter, Maria (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir); and his elderly blunt-speaking mother (Herdis Porvaldsdottir).

We now have all the ingredients in place for this witch's brew to boil over spectacularly, with the major business at hand a fiery expression of Thordur's children's well-justified hatred of their father. The plot is thick with terrible family secrets, treachery and folly. Not one of these people is remotely involving, ranging from nasty to not very bright and just plain crotchety. Their shenanigans are served up with such a heavy hand that the effect is more often wearying than darkly amusing.

"The Sea" is a lurid wallow in misery, ending on a tentative note of reconciliation among some of the combatants that smacks of wishful thinking. It's hard to imagine anyone enjoying it except for those seeking to see people up there on the screen unhappier than themselves.


'The Sea'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Language, sex, nudity, violence

Gunnar Eyjolfsson...Thordur

Hilmir Snaer Gudnason...Agust

Helene de Fourgerolles...Francoise

Kristbjorg Kjeld...Kristin

Sven Nordin...Morten

A Palm Pictures presentation of a Blueeyes Productions/Emotion Pictures/Filmuset Produksjoner production. Director Baltasar Kormakur. Producers Kormakur, Jean-Francois Fonlupt. Screenplay Kormakur, Olafur Haukur Simonarson; based on a play by Simonarson. Cinematographer Jean-Louis Vialard. Editor Valdis Oskarsdottir. Music Jon Asgeirsson. Production designer Tonie Jan Zetterstrom. In Icelandic, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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