Friday, September 16, 2022

Nate Hood on The Seer and The Unseen which plays Ovid September 9/20

You may not believe in elves, but Ragnhildur “Ragga” Jónsdóttir does. Like hundreds of thousands of her fellow Icelanders, she believes in the existence of huldufólk (“hidden people”), invisible nature spirits that inhabit rocks, trees, streams, and mountains just like the kami in Japanese Shinto. Since the first Vikings arrived in Iceland in the ninth century, the huldufólk have been central figures in their culture and folklore—it’s said the first documented law in their nation’s history required ship captains to remove dragon figureheads from their ships when coming into port so they wouldn’t frighten them. Ragga is among the most revered “seers” in Iceland, one of the select few believed capable of seeing and communicating with them. She’s hired to investigate construction sites to make sure they aren’t disturbing their otherworldly inhabitants; in one early scene she explains to the bemused yet patient owner of a bed and breakfast near a tourist-infested geyser that his intended expansion is next door to a colony of huldufólk living in a cluster of birch trees. She seems at first glance a gentle old woman, earnest, magnanimous, completely harmless. At least until she puts herself directly into the government’s crosshairs by announcing an imminent highway construction project through the Gálgahraun Lava Field will go straight through one of their most sacred villages. Almost overnight she becomes an icon among Icelandic environmentalists who want to stop the destruction of the ancient lava field. But can she handle the pressure?

Sara Dosa’s The Seer and the Unseen is the portrait of one woman’s battle to preserve her beliefs and homeland from the ravages of capitalism run wild. At least it should’ve been. Overlong and unfocused, the film attempts too many things at once, veering wildly from lectures about the Icelandic economy and the reckless “Viking investors” whose antics exacerbated the 2008 financial crisis to glorified home movies of Ragga puttering around her home with her family. These latter are at least tolerable due to their depiction of how folk beliefs are transmitted through the generations, but when the serious topics of climate change and economic corruption show up they feel thematically out of place. It grows into a film of visceral psychological violence, unflinchingly showing the abuse of protestors by police and the destruction of the environment by construction workers.

This film needed tighter focus, a clearer purpose, and about fifteen minutes shaved off.

Rating: 5/10

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