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Icelandic and idiosyncratic

A husband-hunting glamour puss returns home in the deft 'The Seagull's Laughter.'

March 19, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"The Seagull's Laughter" is a delicious pitch-dark Icelandic comedy centering on a femme fatale so enigmatic it brings into question just how fatale she may actually be. As clever and amusing as writer-director Agust Gudmundsson's adaptation of Kristin Marja Baldursdottir's novel is, his film is lots more than that.

It is rich in social and historical context, in its sense of place, a fishing village surrounded by a lava field, and even mythology, for its no accident that his heroine is named Freya, who is the Goddess of Love of Old Norse legend. Beyond this, the film manages to be deftly cinematic despite its considerable -- and thankfully witty -- dialogue and is finally a gleeful probe into female psychology and how women have always banded together to deal with men.

Freya (Margret Vilhjalmsdottir), a statuesque beauty in her mid-20s, arrives in her native village dressed like a movie star and with seven trunks of clothes. Her aunt (Kristborg Kjeld) welcomes her with open arms even though her small home is crowded with her own two daughters, her fisherman husband and an 11-year-old granddaughter. The year is 1953, and some years before Freya had left town the chubby bride of an American serviceman. Upon his death Freya has returned home with little more than a '50s glamour wardrobe and a spectacular figure, which should be enough to land her a new husband.

Even though that of necessity is her primary goal, Freya has lots more to her. She may seem a goddess and yet is capable of kindness and concern for others, especially for an old friend with a lousy husband and even for the town drunks. She is a confounding presence in the community, especially for her cousin Agga (Ugla Egilsdottir), a bright, outspoken and nosey adolescent at once repelled and captivated by Freya, perhaps because she instinctively recognizes herself in the older woman but is not yet old enough to grasp this.

Ambitious, Freya sets her cap for the most eligible man in town, Bjorn Theodor (Heino Perch), a construction engineer about to complete his studies in Germany and a shareholder in the local shipping industry. Even though the community assumes he will marry the magistrate's daughter, who shares in this expectation, that is not about to stop the determined Freya. But despite her present stylish appearance, Freya is from a working-class background, a fact that is not likely to endear her to Bjorn's ultra-snobbish mother.

Freya's progress is unpredictable and provocative as is everything about this delightfully idiosyncratic movie. The cast is a sparkling ensemble, with Vilhjalmsdottir adept at keeping us guessing about the mercurial and complex Freya's true nature. Equally impressive is Egilsdottir, who subtly reveals Agga's transition from adolescence to the dawning of her becoming a woman, which is marked by her discovery and acceptance of the need for female solidarity.

*

'The Seagull's Laughter'

MPAA rating: Unrated.

Times guidelines: Some sex, nudity, violence; complex adult themes.

Margret Vilhjalmsdottir...Freya

Ugla Egilsdottir...Agga

Heino Perch...Bjorn Theodor

Hilmir Snaer Gudnasson...Magnus

Kristjorg Kjeld...Granny

A Cinema Guild release of a co-production of Isfilm ehf, Archer Street Ltd., Hope and Glory Productions in association with Helgi Toftgaard. Writer-director Agust Gudmundsson. Based on the novel by Kristin Marja Baldursdottir. Producer Kristin Atladottir. Cinematographer Peter Krause. Editor Henrik D. Moll. Music Ronen Waniewitz. Costumes Dorunn Maria Jonsdottir. Production designer Tonie Jan Zetterstrom. Set decorator Gund Arndis Oskarsdottir. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In Icelandic, with English subtitles.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., (323) 655-4010.

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