Cinema Signal:

Land of the Sagas

. "The Seagull's Laughter" (aka, "Mavahlatur") (accent marks removed by necessity)

Marked by a certain jumpiness in story telling continuity, suggesting a lack of filmmaking sophistication and control, this study of small town envy builds some sympathy for its heroine. Forgiving the awkwardness in cutting and a backwardness in film style makes it possible to get absorbed in the characters, though you tend to think you've seen it before. It's noirish inclination provides some lift in interest but not enough to rescue the lack of purpose and unresolved contradictions.

Holding center stage is Freya, aka Freyja (Margret Vilhjalmsdottir), a working class lady with big city style returning to her home town and distant relatives after the death of her American husband. To Granny (Kristbjorg Kjeld) she's a breath of interesting energy. To the residents of the provincial Iceland fishing village located just outside of Reykjavik in 1953, she might as well be a movie star. Or, at least, they sense the airs of one. Even so, she has her supporters and her enemies.

Most confused in this clash of reactions is Granny's intense eleven-year-old granddaughter Agga (Ugla Egilsdottir) who takes an instant dislike to Freya, calling her "colder than a corpse" and "evil" while, at the same time, responding to Freya's warm embrace and desire to please the pre-teen. But Agga's age doesn't limit her treachery. Like a spy set on her own mission of destruction, she fights to bring her kind and glamorous relative down. When she detects any sort of weakness or infraction of law. A lack of evidence of something untoward is no deterrant. Convinced that Freya killed her husband, she brings her suspicions to the local constabulary in the person of a cool minded police officer, Magnus (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason), who pretty much laughs away her childish imagination.

Magnus is young and handsome, an apparently obvious plant for a romantic rescue of the needful knockout of a widow, Freya. But despite an attraction, he finds her too much to take on. While he handles Agga with perhaps more indifference than he should, the child's accusations become a matter of crying wolf, obscuring the truth when they finally contain some.

Freya's mystery, stemming from her incompletely disclosed past, is exceeded by her ambition to use her physical prowess to land someone rich. She lures Bjorn Theodor (Ferch), a well-to-do construction engineer and shareholder in the local fishing industry from his childhood sweetheart Birna (Halldora Geirhardsdottir), to whom he's engaged. He spurns this daughter of the local magistrate, dazzled by Freya's beauty. Freya lives up to her name, the "Goddess of Love" in Norse mythology, giving it an evil edge when she marries him and takes over his household from his dominating mother, another in the army of clannish women whose lives seem to be an unending conspiracy against men.

In the end, Agga's insistence on Freya's dark side is realized while the punishment she craves becomes unobtainable. The seagull's laughter would seem to be provoked by an escape from justice while we contemplate a feeling of irresolution in the aftermath of a crime. It's been a story steeped in attitudes toward stereotypes with little satisfaction that anything's been resolved and we leave it with a sick feeling about a little girl's obsessed dedication to betrayal.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Margret Vilhjalmsdottir as Freya
in self admiration.

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