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The Deep (Djúpið)

Film Four Stars
The Deep or Djúpið as it is called in its native Icelandic, is a film from director Baltasar Kormákur who co-wrote the script with Jón Atli Jónasson basing it on actual events. I know that doesn't often mean much in Hollywood these days but here it does. The Deep tells the story of a man who survived the sinking of the fishing vessel he was aboard, the gruelling swim to shore in freezing waters, and the walk across the rocky volcanic terrain in freezing conditions to his home town.

The film not only retells these fantastical events but also what happened to the man afterwards and how he was viewed by the world he returned to as the sole survivor.

Plot.pngTheDeep.jpgThe usual write-up for the film is a little dry so here's what the Edinburgh International Film Festival brochure has to say about it:
When a fishing boat sinks in the stormy waters off the coast of Iceland every member of the crew perishes... except for one. What makes Gulli different and how did he manage to endure almost nine hours in the frozen sea? Based on astonishing true facts, this is the story of how one man's innate survival instinct shocked an army of medical professionals and came to symbolise the strength and determination of a nation.

To accompany that here's the Festival trailer for The Deep (Djúpið):

TheFilm.pngFor those of you who don't know Baltasar Kormákur starred in the film Reykjavik-Rotterdam which he later remade for Hollywood as Contraband, this time as the director. However don't let Contraband be an indication of anything regarding The Deep because this is a very different film.

The first thing you notice about the film, and this is probably more about Iceland at the time than the film itself, is that everyone smokes. It seems that for a good while every scene starts with someone lighting up. It is a bit of a culture shock for us these days, smoking isn't as prevalent as it is in the film however that could be partly because this is set back in the eighties, as can be seen by the cars and some of the clothes on display, and as with all films that manage to present a past view without making it too clichéd and over the top, it keeps all these references in context and in the background. It gives us the feel of the period without it taking over.

The film itself has muted tones throughout, something to heighten the feeling of the cold of Iceland and of its freezing waters. It gives the film a washed out feeling, perhaps a little like some of the characters themselves. This might mark a point where I start talking about the strong cinematography, and how great the film looks, and while it does look good there's something that does The Deep an injustice, and that's the editing.

It does have the feeling of being a little jumpy. Not just shot to shot but in the flow of the scenes through the story. It's something that you do get used to during the film but a number of times it does step to the fore and attract your attention more than it should, diverting us away from the film and the story.

The actual story starts slowly, focusing on the characters and building them up through the events of the night before and the morning after. Following their routine before they head off out to sea and it's something that feels natural to them. Putting the jumpiness to the side there are a few scenes where I did want the story to pick up a little and when that feeling comes it does do just that. While that doesn't affect the film overly it was another reason why I thought that it could do with another edit.

As the men head off to sea there are some interesting reveals of life aboard a fishing vessel in such harsh and cramped conditions although not quite like the reality shows you might have seen of the life of men at sea. I did think that this part of the film would present events a little tougher than they appear here but it doesn't and the scenes don't last for too long before we move on.

The accident is surprisingly quick and isn't as overly dramatic as Hollywood would normally deliver. It doesn't seem long before the survivors are stranded, hanging onto the smallest piece of wreckage left and concentrating on survival. It does give the feeling of events just occurring rather than the camera trying to take us into the middle of them.

During the scenes following the accident I did think that the film didn't get across the enormity of the events. With the camera continually close in on the survivor it struggled to demonstrate the just how isolated he was or the impact of the situation. This feeling stretched on to his trek across the rocks towards home. This seems like it would have been a truly arduous journey but it never quite hits that feeling. I never really felt that he was so alone and stranded as he must have been and we did need some scale to accompany it. Interestingly I did find myself thinking about sharks considering the early mention of Jaws and the underwater shots, whether that was intentional or not I'm not sure.

What I did really like through these sections was the way the film portrayed his thoughts both of his past and of his sunken comrades. We view his thoughts through old style video footage shown in the same old format and framing which I think works really well over the standard flashbacks. It also helps it separate them from the flashes to his shipmates as we are returned to the deep with underwater shots of his now peaceful shipmates. There's nothing over explored or explained about how he's feeling and we are left to interpret it through these images and the performance of Ólafur Darri Ólafsson who plays the leading character of Gulli.

The flashback scenes are particularly good as they feel like watching a home movie through the character's eyes as he might have remembered viewing them himself, it's another aspect of the film that manages to make you feel the period without taking over from the film. They also reflect much about the film itself as they tell his story efficiently and directly without a lot of interpretation. They also convey a feeling of reality very effectively, and that is something this film manages throughout, perhaps because of the way that it tells the story rather than trying to get you too involved.

Some of the best scenes of the film come near the end when the survivor gets the chance to carry out everything that he promised he would if he should survive. Again the film leaves you to do some of the work and you need to pay attention and draw your own conclusions, it isn't spoon feeding you the answers word for word. Fleeting moments at a window, quiet and short words between people without drawn out, emotionally wracked speeches, these are powerful moments and really make the film for me.

As I suggested earlier The Deep tends to tell us the story of the events this man experienced rather than trying to take us into them and experience them through the film. I did feel more like a witness than a participant, however I don't view that as a negative as it feels as though we hear the story retold and it gives it a much more authentic feel, more like a recreation rather than an overly dramatised Hollywood film.

One more thing before I summarise, stay seated as when the credits appear there are a few moments which will show you how close to actual events this film was, well in one scene at least, and how true to actual events they have stayed. It also acts as a credit to the actor, writer and director for their recreation.

Overall.pngI really enjoyed The Deep. It's a strong film which lets you see a story being told and never overplays it or seems to interfere with it, preferring to show you events and let you draw your own meanings and understandings from them. This is the kind of storytelling that I really do like, the kind that stays with you just nudging the back of your thoughts.

The film doesn't try and deliver huge surprises or action sequences rather it tells a very human story and takes you along with the leading character. I would have liked to have gotten a little further inside the character and truly understand what filled his thoughts after the accident and motivated his choices, but not definitively knowing doesn't harm the film and helps build that feeling of a recreation of events.

Apart from the periods of jumpiness and the lack of scale of the post-accident journey scenes, the film looks good and carries a strong storytelling aspect to it. This seems a long way from Contraband but in a good way. Writers, director and leading actor have delivered a good film that was a great way to open the Edinburgh International Film Festival for me this year, and it clearly shows that Baltasar Kormákur will have much more to come.

More on Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013 on Filmstalker
More on other Festivals on Filmstalker
Edinburgh International Film Festival Official Site
Rent from Amazon.com or LOVEFiLM
UK IMDB Film Details



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