It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The most beautiful woman in the Icelandic village of Hafnarfjordur ran off to New York with an American serviceman, or so it is said, and now returns to her hometown without her husband but with seven trunks of sexy dresses. Is she a widow, as she claims, or did she never marry the serviceman, or did he come to a bad end? Frayja is the kind of woman who inspires such speculation, especially in the inflamed imagination of her 11-year-old cousin Agga, who adores and hates her, sometimes at the same time.
"The Seagull's Laughter," an uncommonly engaging comedy with ripe tragic undertones, begins with the fact that everybody in town lives in everybody else's pockets. There are few secrets. Certainly Frayja (Margret Vilhjalmsdottir) is a sex bomb in search of a husband, and there are only two eligible men in the village: an engineer who lives with his mother and is engaged to the mayor's daughter, and a young policeman. The engineer has the better job and house, and so the mayor's daughter must go.
All of this is seen through the eyes of Agga, played by Ugla Egilsdottir with such spirit and deviousness that when I was on the jury at the 2002 Karlovy Vary Festival in the Czech Republic, we gave her the best actress award. She is on the trembling edge of adolescence, and her ambiguous feelings about sexuality cause her to worship the older woman while at the same time trying to frame her with arson, murder and other crimes, during regular visits to the young cop. He dismisses her breathless eyewitness reports as the fantasies of an overwrought would-be Nancy Drew, but the movie suggests some of her reports -- especially involving the mysterious fire that kills the wife-beating husband of Frayja's best friend -- may contain bits of truth.
Frayja has essentially returned from America with no prospects at all. She takes a job in the chemist's shop, and finds popularity with the local drunks by selling them rubbing alcohol. She has moved into her grandfather's house, displacing the resentful Agga from her bed, and joins a matriarchy. The grandfather is almost always away at sea, and his house is ruled by his wife, Agga's grandmother, who also provides a home for her daughters Dodo and Ninna, and her pipe-smoking sister in law Kidda. Death is a fact in this home; Kidda's husband has died, and so have young Agga's parents. (When the police arrive at the door and ask to speak with her mother, she calmly tells them, "That will be difficult. She's dead.") The women are supportive of Frayja and delighted by all of her dresses; they hold a spontaneous dress-up parade, and end by admiringly measuring her waist, bustline and long hair.