Just recently I’ve been watching quite a few foreign language films that have all been very engaging, the one previous to The Deep/Djúpið (2012) was Julieta (2016) which I remember being discussed on it’s release in the UK. I must admit that I did try to write a review yesterday but failed to have the fire in me to get past a few paragraphs to really make it worth my time. I may return to it as and when. Having seen Deep/Djúpið I was unaware of what I would really expect, knowing only that there was a ship wreck, beyond that I knew little else. I think going into a film, foreign language or not its best to know as little as possible as it can really raise your expectations. I had very few beyond the description that came with the recording. Over breakfast I was taken back to 1984, and to an Icelandic Island where a tragedy was about to unfold.
We meet a group of men on a night out, it’s cold, snowing and tempers are running high at the time. I’m already thinking how are they not wearing more layers than they are here. I’m not considering that they are used to these temperatures so its nothing new to them. Unusually for a film we are following the more unlikely of characters, a man whose more rotund, not your the kind of man you expect to see leading a film, which in itself refreshing. Gulli (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) whose an average guy enjoying himself on a night out. Away from Hollywood representation of men at least is more true to life. For now we don’t know that the focus of the film is on him, as we meet 5 other men who we get to know before they set off on another fishing trip. Ironically the only real connection to Julieta. We see a few of the men back home, Palli (Joi Johannsson) who has a wife and kids. A man whose loved by all he knows, these moments are all important as we lead up to our time at sea. We also have a young chef whose about to be pushed by his new captain. All these moments allow us to get to know the men before they set off for the North Sea.
The look of the film is semi-documentary, not really getting in the faces of the characters, allowing them to just get on with life on the fishing boat. I was reminded briefly of the visceral imagery in Leviathan (2012) that took us into the silent world of fishermen at work, given only the images and silence between conversation aboard a ship. The audience is teased very early on into the trip as a net gets caught under the surface. Thankfully the first time they are able to save themselves from capsizing. Making me wonder why they would cast their net in such an area, aren’t these experienced fisherman out on another trip. It shows how incompetent the crew might be, do they not know the waters well enough to avoid this section of the sea. It’s a flaw in the film that is not explored. We are left wondering just why did they do this in the first place.
The second time around the net is caught and it’s too late, the winch is still going out and they are slower to react. We have been waiting for this to happen really, what will they do, will they get themselves out of this incident. It’s how the react that is the direction the film leads us. We see a father and son loose each other, a chef never to cook another meal whilst Gulli tries his best to rescue the remainder of the crew. Breaking Palli free before the real drama begins, going into survival mode. I forget this is the North Sea, becoming more about wanting these men to get back out of this cold water. 3 men soon become one – Gulli is the sole survivor of the crew, the man we weren’t expecting really in classic film terms. It’s awful seeing him all alone in the freezing water, with only a seagull to keep him company, for without the bird we would be in the world of Robert Redford‘s All is Lost (2012) and surviving at sea.
Its a different kind of survival, there are no books, no kit to work with, just pure instinct and the need to stay alive, to stay sane in the ice cold waters that has just taken his five colleagues. You could say it’s the Gull who saved him, kept him talking. Ignoring that seagulls come out to sea to die, he obviously close to land. His life does flash before his eyes in super 8 format, something you either go with or see as contrived as we return to this method a few times to allow flashbacks to happen. We are taunted with another boat that is so close yet so far away. Gulli has to swim to stay alive. Time really is drawn out before he finally spots land and faces another battle, the harsh rocky landscape and the tide that throws him about like a bit of drift wood. He finally makes it back to familiar ground, with bleeding feet and exhaustion.
He soon becomes the talk of the island, the loss of 5 men at sea and one survivor, something professionals all believe to be a miracle to survive from. You start to think about how and why he survived and it becomes glaring the obvious the more time we spend with Gulli, his extra weight acted as an insulator, not the scientific community reach that conclusion for sometime. Instead he’s invited to take part in medical research. We are wasting time here as we don’t need to see him treated like a lab-rat, the miracle is not a miracle, even to those who aren’t medically trained. It’s the weight, the fat that insulated him – they call it Seal fat, which is laughable as his parents would have to be Seals and we would have to be the world of Men & Chicken (2015). All I can think of now is puppy fat in children which is nonsense too.
Anyway flaw found I move onto see a man whose been poked, prodded and tested until he can take no more. Wanting to get on with his life. Do what he promised God he would, allowing others and himself to grieve and move on. To finally go back out there and put his life at risk once more, a fisherman a trade he cannot give up. It’s his life and the only one he knows, it’s a dangerous one which we have seen affect him far greater than we could imagine. On balance The Deep does have good intentions and have real heart. It fails to explore why the men cast their net twice is low areas, instead it focuses on the ‘miracle’ that was an overweight guy surviving in the North Sea. Common sense could have saved us a lot of time and given is a very different film. We do however really care for Gulli whose not allowed to process what’s happened and to get on with his life.