ReelTalk Movie Reviews  

New Reviews
Jurassic World Domini...
Jazz Fest: A New Orle...
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue ...
more movies...
New Features
Poet Laureate of the Movies
Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks
Score Season #71
more features...
ReelTalk Home Page
Contact Us
Advertise on ReelTalk

Listen to Movie Addict Headquarters on internet talk radio Add to iTunes

Buy a copy of Confessions of a Movie Addict

Main Page Movies Features Log In/Manage

Rate This Movie
 Above AverageAbove AverageAbove AverageAbove Average
 Below AverageBelow Average
Rated 3.01 stars
by 1149 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Icy Fingers Up and Down My Spine
by Donald Levit

Quick now, no fair peeking: exactly where is Iceland, and to whom does it belong? Some say it was the Norsemen's Ultima Thule. Whatever its origins beyond thermal activity, the Kentucky-sized land has surfaced onto movie maps, with uniquely wry black comedies 101 Reykjavík and Nói/Nói Albinói and now The Seagull's Laughter/Mávahlátur, an official entry for the Academy Awards in 2002. Highlighted against gloomy weather, a stark haunting backdrop of sea with grotesque lava shapes poking through snow, and a sense of life's tragic confines alternating with mischievous wit, all three exhibit a refreshing slant on the social microcosm, punctuated with loneliness, longing, alcohol and sex.

Prominent at home, director Ágúst Gudmundsson offers this as his first theatrical release in the United States, where it is deserving of the success denied its recent predecessors. Equally funny and insightful, it adds a hint of Nordic fairyland, of witches and elves whose influence is unpredictably baleful or beneficial. Henrik Ibsen's giant trolls appear for only a few seconds, and then as wooden side props to a smalltown play of a Fairy Queen, but their presence can be posited throughout.

Gudmundsson's own screenplay, condensed from a novel by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir, comes to us through the viewpoint of adolescent Agga (Ulga Egilsdóttir), whose Peeping Tom curiosity and hormonal mood swings go far towards explaining what is seen. She is suspicious of, but drawn to, spicy cousin Freya (Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir), the sensuous young widow who returns from America, moves back in, and shares her provocative 1950s-style movie-star clothing and liberated views with the household and her bedroom with Agga.

Freya is the name of the Nordic love goddess, their Venus (and, with variant Frigga, the origin of our "Friday"). The newcomer gazes happily at her mirror reflection in Granny's (Kristbjorg Kjeld) house, favors tight skirts or even trousers, sashays the streets in bright colors and attracts all eyes, jealous or disapproving women's as well as hapless men's. She seems to espouse advanced views -- though Social Democrat fisherman Grandpa (Eyvindur Erlendsson) doesn't bite and merely wants peace from women -- but young spy Agga sees her as a murderous black widow and nighttime witch who cavorts with spirits.

Repeatedly, Agga confides these dark visions to handsome policeman Magnus (Hilmar Snær Gudnason), but, formerly a suitor of now-slim-once-plump Freya, he good-naturedly dismisses them. Encouraging to the various women and relatives living at Granny's, kind to the town's outcasts, the new returnee is nevertheless atrociously flirty and on National Day snags the local prize, rich engineer Björn Theodor (Heino Ferch). To marry her, he breaks off his understanding with blonde Birna (Halldóra Geirhardsdóttir), daughter of a powerful magistrate also under Freya's spell, and greatly displeases his snooty widowed mother (Jónína Ólafsdóttir).

The newlyweds live in the sumptuous Theodor residence, Agga comes to stay -- since she is the filmic vantage point, this also explains what we can see -- cats are thrown, fires break out, drunken men die violently and babies are born. Toying with dislike and suspicion, Agga herself meanwhile grows to fine young womanhood, a bit like Freya, but only beginning to realize her own sexuality and attractiveness.

Sometimes difficult to keep straight, the numerous female characters are nevertheless remarkably drawn. In a final fishing-dock showdown, Agga takes quick stock and makes her decision. She opts for her own life and possible love, for -- in the good sense -- the conspiracy of women, and for her close-knit, caring family. The gawky child is a woman.

Modestly showing off glamour clothing and cars of the mid-century, to a mock jazzy-bluesy score, the camera moves smoothly in the fluidity of that period. The Seagull's Laughter is enhanced by, yet hardly limited to, place or time. A coming-of-age story involving mystery and love, it pays tribute to the eternal female, and to the strong, secret quality of women that so attracts the masculine.

(For those who have read this far and are still wondering: once Norwegian, then long Danish, occupied "for protection" by Britain and the U.S. during World War II, the Republic of Iceland was born in 1944. The first state in the world with a woman president -- elected to four terms, 1980-96 -- it has a population about that of Anchorage and, though European, is three times closer to Greenland than to the Continent.)

Released in the U.S by The Cinema Guild; not yet rated by MPAA. Photo: Cinema Guild. 

© 2024 - ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Website designed by Dot Pitch Studios, LLC