Rage of Innocents

Sweet Sixteens kids on the edge; The Seas family in hell

Like Sweet Sixteen, Baltasar Kormákur's The Sea unfolds in a bleak, far-flung outpost whose natural beauty and instinctive community have been scarred by progress—in this case a remote Icelandic village whose fishing industry, the only source of revenue it has, is threatened by corporations plundering family fishing quotas. This is a central political debate in Iceland, but in the movie the social issue is no more than a peg on which to hang a family drama so vicious it plays like a Bergman parody. The patriarch, Thórdur (Gunnar Eyjólfsson), a man as broody and cold as the menacing clouds and ice-bound mountains that loom over his spacious home, has summoned his wayward offspring for a family dinner during which he plans to deliver some important news. They're an uninspiring crowd: an ineffectual eldest son who tries to run the ailing business while fending off his rapacious wife; a shrill daughter, a failed filmmaker who now lives in Reykjavík with her weak-kneed Norwegian husband; a willful youngest son who lives in Paris with his pregnant girlfriend, writing songs while pretending to attend business school at his father's expense; and a nubile cousin, Maria, who has the hots for the youngest son.

The screenplay is by Ólafur Haukur Simonarson from his own stage play, and early on he produces a skeleton in the family closet that is held accountable for the hell that breaks loose before, during and after the meal. The device can't begin to bear the weight of the mayhem, which never lets up, ranging from temper tantrums to quickies on the side to arson, all pitched in a sustained key of hysteria. Kormákur, who made the well-received 20-something comedy 101 Reykjavík, has technique to burn and a fine visual grasp of his habitat (I can't think of a recent film that does such evocative things with weather), but he's a young man in over his head with grown-up material. The Sea aspires to Chekhov and Shakespeare with a dash of bedroom farce, but the movie, which means to be a no-frills baring of the human soul, is undone by its own malignant contempt for every one of its characters, except a pathologically candid grandmother who single-handedly kept my chin from dropping to my ankles. Even Bergman would be scrambling for his Prozac.

Sweet Sixteen was directed by Ken Loach; Written by Paul Laverty; Produced by Rebecca O'brien; And stars Martin Compston and Ann Marie Fulton. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.The Sea was directed by Baltasar Kormákur; Written by Kormákur And Ólafur Haukur Simonarson; Based on a play by Simonarson; Produced by Kormákur and Jean-François Fonlupt; And stars Gunnar Eyjólfsson. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.

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