Life In A Fishbowl


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Life In A Fishbowl
"An intelligent script and strong acting bring life and depth to the characters."

When we talk about the economic crash of 2007 to 2008, it's often suggested that it stemmed from a cultural problem. But did that problem stop at the banks? Iceland was hit early, hit hard. This Icelandic drama is set during that critical period and looks at a broader culture of secrecy. It also explores the way the burdens of the past can impact on the present, suggesting that we need to look a long way back as we try to change the way our society works and reduce the risk of things going wrong on that scale again.

Eik (Hera Hilmar) is a young preschool teacher who works as an escort in the evenings in order to provide for herself and her diabetic daughter. When an old man takes an interest in her child, she realises he's a famous writer, Móri (Þorsteinn Bachmann), essentially harmless despite being an alcoholic, and the two develop a friendship. Meanwhile Solvi (Thor Kristjansson), a former footballer and father of one of the kids at her preschool, falls in with a crowd of, to put it politely, bankers, whose main man makes the sleazy boss from Shame look like a nice guy, and as both he and Eik are separately invited on a business trip to Florida, their paths are set to collide.

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With a fourth storyline telling us something about Móri's past, and thus the stuff of his latest book, the film has plenty of meat; and Eik, too, has a complex background which is merely hinted at to begin with, building up to revelations at the film's climax. None of this is really surprising, but perhaps that's the point. With the possible exception of the writer (in his later years) the characters move past one another, keeping a polite distance, trying to avoid looking under the surface. Even what might plainly be seen is left unquestioned because, when it comes down to it, no-one really wants to know. this is very much the case with Slovi's financial report; his persistent attempts to tell people about the problems he's identified are gradually stifled, to the point where he begins to doubt their importance himself.

An intelligent script and strong acting bring life and depth to the characters, with even Solvi's shallowness hinting at a greater malaise. As Móri eloquently confesses his failings through literature, Eik is preparing for a bout of truth-telling that seems as much reaction as action, a simple consequence of the fact that there eventually comes a point when people, like markets, cannot bear any more. The danger is that it's the truth-telling, not the truth to be told, that will come to be interpreted as an act of destruction.

A massive hit at home, this is a film that deserves a wider audience.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2015
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Life In A Fishbowl packshot
Three different lives interweave to tell the story of the impact of Iceland's economic collapse.

Director: Baldvin Zophoníasson

Writer: Birgir Örn Steinarsson, Baldvin Zophoníasson

Starring: Hera Hilmarsdottir, Þorsteinn Bachmann, Thor Kristjansso

Year: 2014

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: Iceland

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