Oscars 2015: "Life in a Fishbowl"

There are three interlocking stories in Icelandic filmmaker Baldvin Zophoniasson’s “Life in a Fishbowl” that are by itself interesting and compelling but together feels contrived and implausible.

There’s the story of Mori, an alcoholic writer who is drowning himself in liquor over an incident some twenty years before. Another story is about Eik, a young single mother who is heavily in debt and who moonlights as a prostitute to support her daughter. The third story belongs to Solvi, a young and charismatic former soccer player who finds himself trapped in the cutthroat and sleazy business of capital financing.

Their lives will surprisingly intersect (with relative narrative ease!) and each one will somewhat influence the course of the other’s life. The storytelling is deliberately slow and the director takes a long time to setup what I expected would be an explosive finale only to pull back and return to his easy, comfortable narrative style just when the movie is almost ready to take off. A quiet and reasonable melodrama, there are secrets that will be revealed close to the end of the film that would have otherwise heightened the drama but only managed to stir a nod from this writer because it only confirmed what is already obvious.

When I watch a movie, I want to somewhat feel what the protagonists are feeling but sadly, in this movie, that did not happen – there are moments when you feel like you are ready to be taken by the story but find hindered ironically by the same storytelling style that the filmmaker thought would work. It is so frustrating to watch a movie that you know wants to provoke a sense of empathy from you but somehow you can feel that there’s a hidden barrier that the director neglected to remove and his characters are left trying helplessly to breach the imaginary wall and connect with the audience who remain steadfastly detached.

I am writing this review a few days after I’ve seen the film and as I look back now and try to understand the film more, I am somewhat struck, right at this very minute, by the irony in the title: The characters and the audience never got to build a cohesive relationship in the two hours that they were together inside the theater because the audience never got to go inside the proverbial fishbowl that these characters were sadly stuck in.

“Life in a Fishbowl” is the entry of Iceland to the Oscars. I watched the film at the screening organized by the European Film Promotion.

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

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