At the end of Kormakur’s masterful blend of sound and fury, the real-life fisherman on whose inexplicable feat in 1984 of surviving six hours in frigid waters after the boat on which he and five companions worked in the legendarily rough waters of the North Atlantic, tells national television, „No one is really bothered by this thing happening.” Thing? In typical Icelandic fashion, he downplays his unique personal experience; like his character in the film, Gulli (Ólafsson), he is much more at home talking about the fate of his mates. The worldview is collective.

Gulli, a chain-smoking single man of 24, lives in the remote Westman islands off the southern coast of Iceland. Like most men in these small communities, he is a heavy drinker and an unflashy nice guy, most at home with his male pals and family. Fishing is the mainstay of the islands’ tiny population, fewer than 5000 persons, most of whom subscribe to a spartan Lutheranism and the non-embellishment it implies. He is overweight, not particularly attractive, and, most surprising of all, in appalling physical shape. The best scientists could do to calibrate his survival was to compare his fat layers to those of a seal.

Scenes of the shoddy boat’s sinking and the men’s attempts to survive provide jolting action, but not too much to overwhelm the calmer, character-driven tale of Gulli’s inner battle to retain consciousness and lucidity throughout this unusual journey.

These sequences provide the filmmaker an opportunity to manipulate old and new film stock to deconstruct memories, especially of Gulli’s childhood at the time of the destructive 1973 eruption of the Eldfell volcano, in a superb, nonlinear style that abuts the straightforward plotline in a painfully beautiful manner.

Howard Feinstein, Screen International / PÖFF