The Sea

The Sea

directed by Baltasar Kormákur

starring Gunnar Eyjòlfsson, Hilmir Snær Gudnason, Hélène de Fougerolles, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Sven Nordin

Palm Pictures

Long since established as a hugely promising actor and director on Europe’s independent underground film scene, Iceland’s Baltasar Kormákur gained widespread attention with his wonderful, low-key adaptation of 101 Reykjavik. His directing style is decidedly North European, borrowing quite a bit from the Danish dogma principles (hand-held camera, realistic language, few locations), although he refuses to be constrained by this given set of rules; and his ability to match economic limitations with artistic ambitions is rare.

Resembling The Celebtration in its general theme, The Sea has aging fishery owner Thordur gathering his family from afar to discuss the future of the family business. Thordur’s loyalties are personal and local, his main object being that the fishery will remain a common good for the small local community which depends on it. However, the company is threatened by both local and international competition, and some family members will not readily accept his refusal to sell off the business. What follows is a fight between loyalties and commercialism, or between family heritage and family future.

The fishery represents an important conflict in its own right, but is even indicative of conflicts within Thordur’s family. During the weekend of the gathering, distrust, secrets and tales of violence and incestous relations are pulled to the surface: The Sea moves slowly but unavoidabbly towards a grand finale of confrontation, despair, and, perhaps, resolution.

Kormákur has made a stark and evocative movie, at once brutally honest and devastatingly cold-blooded. The Icelandic landscape is shown as gray yet massive and overpowering; an at once sinister and beautiful backdrop for the drama taking place. The filming is intimate and unveiling, and the many characters, although juxtaposed in the form of caricatures, are never one-sided, their motives never fully revealed.

The Sea isn’t the original movie it sometimes pretends to be, but it’s an impeccably crafted and moving affair that successfully combines dread with beauty, and painstaking embarrassment with despair, confusion, and twisted, dark humor. At its best, it succeeds in saying something true and honest about family and relationships — and even in its most obvious moments, it’s never less than entertaining. For Kormákur, this is business as usual. For the rest of us, it’s another reminder of the fact that European underground film remains as exciting and vital as it ever was.

Palm Pictures:

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