Sep 3, 2007

Seagull's Laughter


Mávahlátur, by Ágúst Guðmundsson, 2001.





This Icelandic film is readily available in the U.S. through Netflix. It takes place in a small town near Reykjavik in the 1950's, and concerns a young woman, Freyja, who has returned from America. We see Freyja through the eyes of her 11-year-old "cousin" Agga, who is a part-admiring, part-suspicious observer. Freyja comes to stay with a household of women (Grandfather is usually away at sea), and all of the things that can happen in a household of women, do. And some. The drama is frequently portrayed in a droll, bemused manner.

At one point Freyja goes into the lava mountains at night, and Agga runs to wake her grandmother. "I think she's gone to dance with the elves!" Grandmother: "Was she wearing her Sunday shoes?" "No, her boots." Grandmother: "Well, she won't be doing much dancing in them." And grandmother rolls over and promptly goes back to sleep.

Grandma's impassiveness is constant and amusing. Whenever an unwelcome guest arrives, Grandma asks "Would you care for fresh coffee?" as the other womenfolk of the household intimidate the visitor into leaving. After a violent fight Grandma is quite upset...because "I seem to have completely run out of coffee substitute."

Did Freyja kill her American husband? Is she a witch? Will she revenge herself on her childhood friends who called her fatty? (Those friends are not calling the perfectly proportioned beauty "fatty" anymore.) We can't help but wonder what Freyja is capable of--she is clearly someone that you wouldn't want to anger. Despite her vanity and her willingness to use her beauty for her own ends, she also displays a protective, caring, and fun-loving side; her unpredictable temperament is appealing. The scene where she invites three town drunks into her fancy home to shock the locals is charming.

This film is like the perfect blend of coffee: various flavors in just the right amount. It is light and dark, cold and hot, funny and tragic. It is about the supreme test of wills, about strong women who chose to control their destiny (by whatever means necessary? perhaps.) It is exceedingly clever, and the acting, filmography and script are wonderful. In particular, Ugla Egilsdóttir, who plays young Agga, is a marvelous actress. See for yourself!

I wish that other films by Gudmundsson were available here...there are some available in university libraries that I will try to borrow.

5 comments:

Shannon said...

So you liked it? I did, too! I was going to loan my copy to you but I forgot to bring it on my trip to PA.

Professor Batty said...

... what a wonderful film! The domestic scenes brought me back to the times I spent with my Swedish-born grandmother, very evocative with a properly ambiguous ending...

Rose said...

PB,
I'm jealous of the Icelandic films that you seem to get up there in New Iceland, I mean Minnesota...

Professor Batty said...

... I think our good times for Icelandic films are over... we had an Icelandic/Scandinavian film fest for several years, I think they are out of business now :-(

Rose said...

It would be nice if we could start a "floating" film club. Each member buys one Icelandic DVD (subtitled, of course), and then we rotate them around...
Like BookMooch
http://bookmooch.com/
only simpler...