A slow-moving but subtle drama about jealousy and sibling rivalry destroying a family, “Honour of the House” is a deeply moving and captivating film. Its somber look and mood does not bode well for box office success, but upscale arthouses and the fest circuit should take note.
Story takes place in Iceland at the beginning of the century. In a small fishing village, on the west coast, the family of the wealthy local deacon (Rurik Haraldsson) and his wife (Swedish thesp Agneta Ekmanner) forms the natural center of the community. They have two girls, Rannveig (Ragnhildur Gisladottir) and Thurid (Tinna Gunnlaugsdottir). The latter is unhappily married with two kids. Rannveig is unmarried, and it is decided to send her to Copenhagen to study. Thurid becomes very envious.
In Copenhagen, Rannveig stays with family friend Mrs. Kristensen (Ghita Norby), whose son, Bjorn (Bjorn Floberg), seduces her. Gradually it becomes clear that when Thurid studied in Copenhagen some years back, she too was seduced by Bjorn, for whom she still carries a torch as her one true love.
When Rannveig comes home, she turns out to be pregnant, and family honor demands something be done. Thurid masterminds a plan whereby the family announces that Rannveig met a man in Copenhagen to whom she got engaged and a big wedding is scheduled; on the day of the nuptials, however, he doesn’t turn up, and the family claims he died.
Rannveig gives birth to her love-child, much to Thurid’s further envy. While the rest of the family is away, Thurid kidnaps the child and takes it to Copenhagen, where she gives it away for adoption. From that moment, Rannveig stops talking to her sister. Climax to the drama comes when Thurid fabricates a story in order to return to Denmark, where she takes up again with Bjorn, and back in Iceland Rannveig starts an affair with a married carpenter.
Pic is based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness, father of the movie’s writer-director, Gudny Halldorsdottir. In the hands of a lesser helmer, the story could easily have become a borderline laughable melodrama, but Halldorsdottir understands the need for tact and subtlety in dealing with such material. Emotions are mostly beneath the surface, and the film paints a vivid and realistic portrait of a family to which honor is more important than individual feelings.
Technically the result is tops, with special kudos due to art director Tonie Zetterstrom, who has created an Icelandic fishing village that looks utterly real. Performances are also very good, especially by Gisladottir as Rannveig and Gunnlaugsdottir (sister of well-known Icelandic director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson) as Thurid.