Lobster Soup


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Lobster Soup
"Although celebratory of these lives well lived, there's also a melancholy underpinning to this tale." | Photo: Courtesy of Visions du Reel

The importance of genealogy runs in the veins of Iceland, with its family sagas stretching back down the centuries and this documentary about the history and the clientele of a small cafe bar slots neatly into the tradition, the only surprise perhaps that it is helmed not by locals but by a couple of Spaniards from Valencia - Rafa Molés and Pepe Andreu.

They bring their outsiders curiosity to Bryggjan, which is run by brothers Alli and Krilli in the small town of Grindavik, which though just a stone's throw from tourist magnet the Blue Lagoon has historically been a fishing port. The bar, in fact, was a secondary business for the pair, whose chief line of work was the manufacture of fishing nets but who decided it might be a nice idea to set up somewhere for their fishing buddies to meet. The lobster soup - once only served on Fridays - became an instant hit and as Iceland found itself increasingly on the tourist trail, more and more visitors also began to stop off.

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These things all add complexity to a film, whose chief ingredient is the bar and its regulars themselves, the good old boys who have long hung up their nets and now pop in daily to put the world to rights. Molés and Andreu take an interest in their stories, relaxing into the rhythms of the bar as we learn about its founding and about the biographies of some of those who drink there - fishermen, an author, a once-famous boxer - the only oddity in the filmmaking, its strongly patriarchal angle, with women seen but not heard.

Although celebratory of these lives well lived, there's also a melancholy underpinning to this tale, as the brothers are, through the course, of the film, preparing to sell up - leaving both them and the bar they have poured their hearts into about to step into a new chapter. The documentarians draw on the bar's existing inclination to record things. Its walls bear an accrual of items donated down the years and before fishing quotas, there was an annual competition for the largest catch in a year - all neatly documented on a plaque in the bar while, at regular community nights, the brothers keep the tradition of storytelling alive, as their clientele recall anecdotes about those who have died.

The fragility of memory is emphasised, not just by the coming in of a new owner, who might or might not respect all the things the bar has been built out of, but also by a scene in a nursing home that shows one interviewee now struggling to remember traditional songs that once tripped off his tongue. Whatever happens next for Bryggjan, this is a warm tribute to its first incarnation.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2021
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Documentary profile of a small community cafe bar in Iceland.

Director: Pepe Andreu, Rafael Molés

Writer: Pepe Andreu, Arunas Matelis, Rafael Molés, Ólafur Rögnvaldsson

Year: 2020

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Iceland, Spain, Lithuania


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