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Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The film of the day is THE SEA, an Icelandic film directed by Baltasar Kormakur. It's a story of a given family's dysfunction best symbolized in a moment toward the end when grown daughter tells aunt, who is also step mother, to get her a cup of tea. Auntie says, "You're no guest of mine." An hour before, she would have done it. The story begins with man and woman on a plane flying to a little town on the eastern shore of the island, the opposite end from Reykjavik. He is an Icelander and she's French. They live in Paris. He's going home for a few days because dad called the 3 kids together from their different places. In the plane, she said she's looking forward to meeting his family. He said, "Just wait til the monsters start crawling out from their hiding places." She said, "After living with you, I don't think there's many things that can surprise me." This was the beginning. In the climactic blow-out scene near the end, she held her face in her hands, surprised and then some.

Before the plane touches ground, we understand we're in for a dysfunctional family reunion called by the old man for reasons only he knew. He was a moderately wealthy fisherman who had grown his business into a factory operation, sent two of his kids off to university in Europe, paid their ways through school; whenever they drop by Iceland, it's to get some money from dad. We get to know everyone individually, each one a sympathetic individual, and when they get together, they don't make any music. Dad being the root of the family dysfunction, the one everybody has problems over, is a sympathetic man. His case is as valid as anyone's, perhaps more so. Like everybody who supports someone else, he's a bit frustrated over absence of expressed gratitude. Though from the point of view of the grown kids, they've got it coming from all he put them through as children, every kind of abuse there is. The youngest daughter, living at home, half-sister to the brother living in Paris, is crazy in love with him and they get together in private when they can. It's them in the picture above.

We are told at the beginning, by way of the son from Paris telling his girlfriend that what we're about to see is Iceland, laying its soul bare for the world to see. It makes me wonder if the film freaked the Icelandic people like Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint freaked American Jews for all that it told about the culture from within. The girlfriend from Paris is of a gentle nature, a flute player in a symphony. She is the audience in one person. She learns what we learn as the story goes along. She has the misfortune of being intimately involved. She's looking at her own future. She's pregnant; therefore, committed. Not so easy to back out now. The daughter's husband, who I took for Swedish, was familiar with the family psychology, and not engaged. He knew before they arrived that it would be hell to pay before the return home. Their teenage son wandered about in the film like an American teenage slacker.

Three generations are represented in the film during this time of rapid international change away from traditional cultures into a common culture of various languages. The old man worked hard all his life. First, a fisherman in the North Sea, rugged work. He was a worker and it paid off for him. He drove a new red Cadillac. His fish factory was a major business in the town. He noted about changing times, walking through the factory where several Chinese people were working, saying it's looking like an international airport in there. His generation was the original Icelanders, Scandinavians on an island for several centuries, hard working fishermen. In the next generation, the daughter went to 8 years of film school in Poland, paid for by hard working daddy. The son went to school in Paris, paid for by hard working daddy. The third son stayed home and took care of the fish factory, but not well enough to suit the old man, of course. We only see the three children of the son who stayed on the island while they're watching tv, and once looking at their mother lying in the snow in her party dress drunk.

The eye of the storm was the old man's wife, Kristin, if I recall correctly, the observer. She sees and hears, but stays out of it. None of the kids liked her and she was not overwhelmed with enthusiasm for them. The old man was her husband, her lover, the man she lived in the house with, the house that was suddenly full of takers, who only showed up when they wanted to take something, like money. She knew beforehand what we learned about the visitors, that they only regarded the old man as money bags. Her reticence throughout the story is explained by the end, when seen alone with her husband again, happy to be back with her man, minus all his loose ends flapping in the breeze. And more than likely happy she'll see none of them again, before the funeral.

It turned out to be one of the family reunions of volatile temperaments that explodes with the energy all the elements brought to the explosion. Only grandma, who watched tv with headphones, came through the ordeal without a scar. They were all weak and of no account to her. She was the old Icelandic culture, a shell of it washed up on the beach. Occasionally, she'd make a comment as a detached observer from the old world. In her words, she was only half alive. The old man's complaint, which she would have seconded, was that none of the younger ones had ever worked, had any sense of what work was. Their complaint was that they do work, just not in fishing boats. Everybody focused on self, no one willing to bridge the gaps between themselves and the others, ended up with everybody estranged from everybody else, like usual. Everybody went home wounded in one way or another, each in his and her own ways, the Parisian flautist in shock.


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