Sea, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/15/07 22:43:09

"This is what happens to soap suds at twenty below."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

“The Sea” is an Icelandic update of “King Lear” that dumps in plenty of soapish doings and a fiercely negative picture of the country and the people in it. It’s Shakespeare mixed with “St. Elmo’s Fire” by way of Björk. It is, surprisingly, not as terrible as that sounds, but it’s still buried so deep under a mountain of melodrama and overacting that it’s not that good.

Our Lear of the north is Thordur (Gunnar Eyjólfsson), a grumpy old sort who owns the local fishery and prides himself on being able to hire anyone in need of a job, never mind how this affects the dwindling profits. Thordur has three children: Haraldur (Sigurdúr Skulason), who stayed home to help with the family business; Agust (Hilmir Snćr Gudnason), who lives in Paris in hopes of being as far away as possible; and Ragnheidur (Gudrún S. Gísladóttir), a filmmaker who pretty much just wants to inherit her fortune as quickly as possible. They’ve all been called back home for a family reunion, where they’ll try to get the old man to sell his business while he still can, and where the old man will tell everyone to piss off.

There is, of course, a deep dark family secret, which is that while Thordur’s first wife (and the mother of the children) was on her deathbed, he was already schtupping her sister (Kristbjörg Kjeld), whom he then quickly married. There are other secrets as well, none of which I’ll spoil, just in case you have a hankering for Icelandic soap opera.

There are no nice characters, really, although Agust’s fiancée comes close, I guess. We get instead your standard “Melrose Place” assortment of backstabbers, arsonists, crybabies, and folks who’ll sleep with anyone and everyone if it helps their mission. Worse, writer/director Baltasar Kormákur (adapting a play by Olafur Haukur Símonarson) details the bleakest portrait possible of life in Iceland’s small towns. Here’s a place where sexual abuse is the norm, where oafish cops pull over drivers so he can grope their breasts, where fathers respond to reports of molestation with “idiots rape idiots,” implying that his daughter is an idiot for being raped. “The Sea” is a hateful, spiteful story filled with characters who are mean but never in an interesting way.

I wouldn’t have minded most of this, really, since bleak can be very good if done well. But Kormákur drops in too many awkward attempts at comedy (Isn’t the oafish raping cop a hoot! Isn’t the senile grandmother hilarious!) and keeps pushing for bigger, broader performances from his overcrowded cast. There’s no such thing as “too much” in Kormákur’s movie. What a story like this needs is the one thing it desperately lacks: subtlety.

“The Sea” has become the highest grossing domestic hit in its native country, so maybe it’s on to something that doesn’t translate well into the American culture. Or maybe Icelandic moviegoers just have a thing for “Dynasty.” Either way, the film just didn’t do it for me. All it told me is that even thousands of miles away, you just can’t escape lousy melodrama.

At least the scenery’s nice.

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