The Seagull’s Laughter
Film review by: Witney Seibold
“The Seagull’s Laughter” (Iceland’s 2002 Oscar entry, only now making it to US theaters), written and directed by Ágúst Guðmudsson, and based on the novel by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir, obviously started with a good idea. I haven’t read the novel, but with the way the film is paced – many swift, often unconnected episodes, and the quick span of a few years – I can see the literary streak in the screenplay seeping through. This literary pacing, while presenting some interesting insights on a country we Americans rarely see, and allowing a pleasant Altman-esque flavor into the film, does make the film feel a bit clunky. Intriguing, but clunky nonetheless.
A small city outside Reykjavik, 1950s. Freya (Margarét Vilhjálmsdóttir), a pretty, cosmopolitan young woman has just returned to her mostly female household from America after losing her American husband in the war. Everyone is smitten with her flashy clothes, long hair, and ample bosom. Her young cousin Agga (a quite good Ugla Egilsdóttir), however, is not so impressed, feeling that there is something wrong with this woman, and begins reporting Freya’s every movement, random seduction of the local fishermen, and bizarre trips to a seemingly haunted beach, to the local cop (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). Freya is seen as a seductress, madwoman, and comic heroine. Agga, in observing, grows from a bratty sneak into an understanding young teen. The film follows mostly Freya and Agga, but occasionally takes time out for the other cousins, aunts, and grandmas that round out the dramatis personæ list. There are romantic intrigues, accidental deaths, and a murder (!).
I think the whole point, aside from the slyly hinted Icelandic mythology (Freya is described as a “Viking Warrior” in the press kit), is Freud’s infamous question about women: What do they want? “The Seagull’s Laughter” is presented as a sitcom, but as if it were directed by John Sayles. This makes for some very amusing scenarios (Agga and her friend alter love letters en route, to comic effect), but the film lacks a vital center.
But while it may not be perfect, and possessed of an inappropriately upbeat ending, it is, like I said, a grand chance to peer into the oft-cloistered culture of Iceland.