Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Seagull's Laughter is a delightful surprise from Iceland, an entertaining comedy
that bounces happily between farce, coming-of-age drama and a kind of quasi-fantastic allegory
in which an empowered woman takes on the mantle of a legendary Ice Fairy. The cast is
consistently amusing, especially the perplexingly complicated leading character. If she's
a murderess, she's a completely happy one.
1952. Her wartime American husband freshly buried (she claims it was a heart
attack), the beautiful Freyja (Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir) makes a big
splash upon her return to her tiny but civilized Icelandic fishing village. Her new fashions
(five suitcases' worth) delight her family and captivate every man she sees, including the
local constable Magnús (Hilmir Snoer Gudnason) and a wealthy engineer, Björn
Theédér (Heino Ferch). He's of a different class and engaged to the local
magistrate's daughter but Freyja still zeroes in on him as her matrimonial target - she can't
wait to spar with his battle-axe of a mother. Meanwhile, young Agga (Ugla Egilsdóttir)
graduates from chocolate smears on her face to being a young lady, all the while suspicious
of Freyja's past and present activities. What does Freyja do on those dark nights, walking
out alone onto the lava floes? Is she communing with spirits or demons? And why is Freyja
so keen on portraying the Ice Fairy in the local play?
The Seagull's Laughter charms us from beginning to end. Freyja comes home to a kind
of rough-hewn matriarchy where hardy women keep ends together while the men go out on fishing
boats or work in faraway Reykjavik. Seeing the parade of odd-shaped but gloriously uninhibited
females go nuts over her American wardrobe is just the beginning of the fun. Freyja sticks out
like a Fifth Avenue model in these hick environs and intends to snare a good mate while she
still has her hourglass figure. The other girls and matrons can't understand how she
maintains a twenty inch waist and such large breasts!
Director Ágúst Gudmundsson cleverly interprets what must be a very strange book
with a deft design sense and droll management of a likeable cast. Young Ugla Egilsdóttir
is Agga, a curious kid who behaves a bit like Christina Ricci from The Addams Family.
She's constantly presenting the handsome policeman Magnús with dead-on accurate
information about Freyja's suspicious activities, which dismisses as the fantasies of a
jealous kid. In a shrewd use of new technology, the director has some Icelandic rock formations
morph just a little as Agga approaches - is this really a Norse land of magic, or is
Agga just hallucinating?
We could easily picture Freyja in a suit of armor and leading an army like the Icelandic
queen of Fritz Lang's Die Niebelungen saga. She instead turns her energies to landing
her desired husband, and after she wins him, wresting control of her new upscale household from his stone-faced mother. All the real battles in this film are between the women, with the men completely neutered by feminine wiles - at one point Freyja even invites three homeless drunks into the house to get a rise in her mother-in-law's blood pressure.
The Seagull's Laughter makes all of this fascinating thanks to great art direction, the
clean and luminous Icelandic landscape (I'm ready to go) and the hearty directness of the
personalities on screen. Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir is darn near unforgettable
as a unique film creation, a kind of volcanic love goddess with knee-length red tresses
that braid into 50 different hairstyles. Freyja apparently subscribes to the marital philosophy
of Ruth Gordon in
Lord Love a Duck: "In our
family, dear, we don't divorce our men - we bury 'em." I think I'd volunteer to be wed and buried
by this siren.
Although the last couple of minutes pay off thematically, the story purposely leaves a number
of its larger questions unanswered. It's still an undeservedly obscure gem, one that I'll
look forward to sharing with friends.
Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of The Seagull's Laughter is a sharp presentation of a
film from a remote corner of the North Atlantic, where we hope the gulf stream keeps the
temperatures at reasonable levels. The sound is as clear as a bell, allowing us to appreciate
the fascinating Icelandic language - which does not sound like Danish, Swedish or Norwegian.
The disc comes with an entertaining making-of featurette that shows the director proudly
setting up his one massive crowd scene: 100 people. It looks like they're having a great time.
The director also provides informative and amusing liner notes (why can't we import talent
like this guy for a change?), and provocative and idiosyncratic trailers and TV spots.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Seagull's Laughter rates:
Sound: Excellent: Icelandic (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Supplements: Five deleted scenes, Making of featurette, trailer, Television ads
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 27, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson