Even the title — "The Seagull's Laughter" — is pretentious. As if to suggest that the movie is going to be an existential cinematic experience akin to Ingmar Bergman's classic works.
Thankfully, it's not. But it is one of the more ambitious imported films we've seen this year. As it turns out, "Laughter" is actually a feminist-leaning dark comedy wrapped up in the trappings of an Icelandic folk tale.
Not everything works here — the ending is too abrupt and leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste. But the performances are solid, and the film is just different enough to please open-minded audiences.
Screenwriter/director Agust Gudmundsson has adapted a novel by Icelandic writer Kristin Marja Baldursdottir about a village that is entranced by a newcomer, Freyja (Margret Vilhjalmsdottir).Actually, she's a former resident who's returned, following a failed marriage to an American soldier.
All the males have fallen under her spell, especially Bjorn Theodor (Heino Ferch), whose mother (Gudlaug Olafsdottir) disapproves of their relationship. But most of the women have also welcomed Freyja, especially when she starts filling their heads with such revolutionary (for the 1950s) concepts as women's liberation.
The story is told from the perspective of a skeptical and somewhat superstitious young girl, Agga (Ugla Egilsdottir, who bears a passing resemblance to Christina Ricci). But Gudmundsson should have spent a little time developing her character better, since some of her actions later don't ring true.
However, Egilsdottir's performance is very good, as is that of Vilhjalmsdottir, who is quite credible as a temptress. And some of the more low-key comic moments do their job — keeping audiences off-balance and unprepared for some of the more shocking developments.
"The Seagull's Laughter" is not rated but would probably receive an R for full female and brief male nudity, simulated sex, violence (bludgeoning), scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based) and some crude slang terms, and brief gore. Running time: 100 minutes.