Imagine TV’s “Dallas” transplanted to an Icelandic fishing village and you have “The Sea,” a well-wrought family melodrama about greed, selfishness and seafood.
Thordur (Gunnar Eyjolfsson) is the aging, hobbled, avuncular head of a major fishing business, known and (mostly) liked by everyone in town. He’s old-fashioned in his methods; he won’t buy a trawler, for example, because it would put 100 people out of work. In his personal life, he is no less stubborn and out-moded. He refused to speak to his daughter Ragnheidur (Guorun Gisladottir) for 10 years after she was raped, and he hasn’t spoken to townsperson Mangi (Erlingur Gislason) in decades because Mangi kissed Thordur’s wife at a dance 50 years ago.
Thordur lives with his second wife Kristin (Kristbjorg Kjeld), who is his first, late wife’s sister. He’s writing his memoirs, and that means he wants to tell the truth about some things. He has called his children home to hear it; Kristin, observing silently from the sidelines, wonders if it’s a good idea.
King Lear-style, Thordur greets his children. The aforementioned Ragnheidur is a frigid harpie, married to the dim Morten (Sven Nordin) and mother of a sullen teenage boy. Agust (Hilmir Snaer Guonason) has been living in France with his girlfriend Francoise (Helene de Fougerolles), allegedly going to school on Dad’s money but really trying to be a songwriter. Haraldur (Sigurour Skulason) still lives in town with his wannabe-punk wife Aslaug (Elva Osk Olafsdottir), working for Dad’s company and hoping to take it over if he can ever convince him to retire and move to Reykjavik, which apparently is what old Icelanders do.
Thordur, however, wants to give the business to Agust, who has no interest in it. Haraldur can’t persuade him otherwise, much to the distress of his mildly insane wife. Kristin’s daughter from her first marriage, Maria (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir), flashes her boobs to the local cop to get out of a speeding ticket, and also has a bit of a crush on her cousin Agust, whom she grew up with.
Haraldur meets with a shady type who asks if there’s a good insurance policy on the fish processing plant. In fact, the very first images of the film are of someone setting the place on fire; the rest of the film takes place prior to that. But with all the seething resentment and hostility, and the general screwed-upness of the entire family — we have neglected to mention Thordur’s alcoholic, garrulous old mother (Herdis Thorvaldsdottir) — Haraldur is certainly not the only one with an arson motive.
Indeed, all of the delicious family melodrama comes to a head in one bang-up scene of yelling, revelations and violence. Directed and written by Baltasar Kormakur (and based on a play by Olafur Haukur Simonarson), “The Sea” is only a step above a TV soap opera. But it is a step, and we’re able to feel genuine compassion for some of the characters, while reveling in the greed and stupidity of the others.
The musical score by Jon Asgeirsson is rather pretty, lending proper emotional weight to some of the events, particularly the wordless fire sequence at the film’s beginning and end.
Kormakur allows for humor, too, though, as in the black ram that wanders through town, and the herd of reindeer that momentarily blocks a fire truck’s path. Kormakur’s first film, “101 Reykjavik” (2000), showed the droll, dull, everydayness of Iceland’s capital city. This, his sophomore effort, explores an underbelly that doesn’t actually exist anywhere outside of fiction, but that is extremely tasty to sample.
B+ (1 hr., 44 min.; in Icelandic with subtitles; )