'Life in a Fishbowl': True to life Icelandic fiction

Soha Elsirgany, Wednesday 25 Nov 2015

Life in a Fishbowl screens twice during the 8th Panorama of the European Festival, bringing an Icelandic multi-narrative drama to Cairo

Life in a Fishbowl
Still from Life in a Fishbowl (Photo: courtesy of Zawya)

Part of Panorama's European Cinema Selection, the Icelandic drama Life in a Fishbowl directed by Baldvin Zophoniasson tells the story of three people whose lives intertwine, revealing fractures in their lives and in different ways offering solace.

At the centre is Eik, a young working single mother who moonlights as a high-end prostitute to make ends meet. Her life intercepts with Mori, a drunken writer and poet who managed to write a successful autobiography after a long creative slump, and Solvi a footballer-turned-banker whose ethics clash with his new corrupt workplace.

According to Iceland Review, Life in a Fishbowl was “the highest-earning film in Icelandic movie theatres in 2014,” and it went on to win many international and local awards including 12 at the Edda Awards of Iceland, as well as Best Feature at the Lübeck Nordic Film Days and a Special Mention at the Zurich Film Festival.

Yet there is nothing particularly novel or unique about the film in terms of plot or technique, and in general it lacks a drive or insight to make it shine.

The relaxed pace of the events drags a little for the first part of the film, but then picks up after the climax. We learn about the characters as the story slowly – perhaps even too much so -- uncovers the mysteries of each life.

The aspects to appreciate are subtle, like the realism of the way lives connect and bypass daily prejudices and given that the film is inspired by true stories, it does a good job staying true to life.

The storyline is revealed sometimes in flashbacks and at other times chronologically. This is somewhat inconsistent but it doesn’t take away from the film and on the contrary makes for an interesting story development and without it the film may have been too bland.

Throughout the film the viewer is kept interested by trying to understand not only the protagonists’ back story, but also their motives and why the characters are forced to accept situations in which they are put- why Mori is drinking himself to oblivion, why Eik refuses to interact with her apparently rich and well known grandfather who is ailing, and why Solvi had to shift careers and make it in the banking world that threatens his idyllic family life.

What binds them all is how they lead double lives, and a running theme of family ties or struggles.

There is also a young girl of the same age in each of the three characters’ lives, which makes for an interesting comparison. One of them is a ghost in Mori’s past, the other is Eik’s daughter who gets tangled in present problems, and the third, Solvi’s daughter, is largely spared and successfully shielded from the grown-up world’s troubles.

The film has been highly praised in Iceland for its portrayal of a time right before the economic meltdown of 2008, giving it a context that might escape an international audience. Through Solvi’s new job, the corruption of the banking world is revealed, and through Eik we see the struggles of daily life where a basic salary falls short.

A few scenes are beautifully shot like the rain through the car window dancing reflected on Eik’s face, and a transition from the light catching on Mori’s drinking glass to a wide shot of the pub.

The character development is the most interesting aspect, with each of them finding some kind of closure by the end of the film.

Overall, Life in a Fishbowl is a sensitive, well acted and well executed storyline, that doesn’t venture too far from the familiar.


Life in a Fishbowl screens twice during the Panorama

Monday 30 November at 9:45
Zawya, Cinema Odeon, 4 Abdelhamid Said street, Downtown Cairo

Saturday 5 December at 9:45
Karim Cinema, 15 Emad El-Din street, Downtown Cairo

*Ahram Online is the main media sponsor of The Panorama of the European Film and of Zawya.

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