The most interesting sight in Baltasar Kormakur THE SEA comes right at the beginning. That would be fire engines contending with reindeer blocking the road as they race to a factory fire. It confirms the setting, Iceland, as a country with its own particular set of quirks, including rams roaming free in retail establishments before their heads become one of the local delicacies. Alas. The plodding storyline about a family reunion never quite gels into anything worth paying much attention to, much less the price of admission.
The suitably bearded and craggy Thordur (Gunnar Eyjolfson), patriarch of a blended family (he married his wife’s sister), gathers the children of both parents together for a meeting to come clean about his past and to settle their future. The time’s they are a-changing in their small village, the fish-packing plant he owns may go under and, of course, there are internecine rivalries and dangerous flirtations to complicate matters. There’s the tarty daughter-in-law with the drinking problem and plans to bankrupt her milquetoast husband. The bitter daughter who has failed as a daughter, wife, mother, and filmmaker (she studied for 10 years in Poland of all places). There’s the youngest daughter, a nubile thing with a yen for her cousin/ step-brother, the son and heir-apparent. That would be Agust, who has shown up with his pregnant French girlfriend and a music career instead of the business degree his father sent him abroad to get. And, further of course, the eccentric grandmother. There’s always an eccentric grandmother, and this one is particularly unpleasant recalling the farts of childhood and bemoaning the fact that she waited so long to take up smoking.
Though set in the matchless and stark beauty of Iceland in all its wintry, volcanic glory, this family is as dull and predictable as yesterday’s toast. Even when the revelations come, the actors involved seem as bored as we in the audience have become. There are what might be stabs at humor. On the car trip to the family reunion, the bitter daughter snatches a video game from her sullen son and tosses it into the wastes of the middle of nowhere (and there’s no nowhere like nowhere in Iceland). It comes across as poisonous, with foreshadowings of Oresetes-like mayhem at some unspecified point beyond the scope of the film. And why is it that even though Agust and his significant other live in Paris, even though he works in Paris and perhaps has even studied there before turning to music, they speak to each other in English while they are in the City of Lights? I’m just asking.
Kormakur fails to make us care about these characters or to be curious about what makes them tick. Rather, their scathing unpleasantness makes us want to run away as quickly as possible to the nurturing angst of, say, Ingmar Bergman at his darkest and most nihilistic. That’s catharsis. THE SEA is just annoying.