Icelandic grandma chats it up with invisible elves in ‘The Seer and the Unseen’

The film makes clear the parallels between the invisible elves and the invisible hand of the marketplace that sent the Icelandic economy into a disastrous tailspin during the 2008 financial crisis.

The Seer and the Unseen. Credit: Roxie Theater

Remember the underpants gnomes, those tiny supernatural denizens of South Park, Colorado, who could mysteriously turn question marks into profit? They are, perhaps, the prime exemplar of the magic of the capitalist marketplace, spinning gold from … something. Frankly, I’m a little surprised they still haven’t issued an IPO or opened their own hedge fund or SPAC.

Iceland may not have underpants gnomes, but for centuries they have had elves: also tiny and invisible, but entirely uninterested in the foolish, acquisitive ways of human beings. And though the elves have of late seen their power wane a little, director Sara Dosa’s The Seer and the Unseen (screening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 13, and at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, Sept. 16) suggests they still maintain the allegiance of a significant number of Icelandic citizens.

The titular seer is grandmother Ragnhildur “Ragga” Jonsdottir, who believes she can see and communicate with her many supernatural neighbors. Jonsdottir claims her invisible friends work, farm and dine (in tiny, also invisible restaurants) near her home town of Geysir (yes, there’s a geyser there).

When the national government announces a nearby road development, Ragga and other locals spring into action to halt the project, claiming it will destroy the town’s unique lava bed nature preserve. It’s true — the road will go straight through the heart of the preserve — and to make matters worse will result in the destruction of the preserve’s most prominent feature, a giant rock Jonsdottir believes is an elvish place of worship.


Some will scoff — heck, I might scoff — at the idea of grown adults believing in things unseen, but it makes special sense in Iceland, where (as The Seer and the Unseen makes abundantly clear) the invisible hand of the marketplace sent the Icelandic economy into a disastrous tailspin during the 2008 financial crisis. Burdened with far more debt than they could service, Iceland’s three major banks collapsed and thousands were left unemployed.

Perhaps, then, belief in tiny supernatural creatures living in harmony with nature is preferable to believing in the peregrinations of the almighty dollar. The film’s good news? There’s enough residual respect for Iceland’s elves that the authorities agreed to relocate that giant rock before completing the roadworks. Perhaps there’s hope for the human race after all.

La Piscine. Credit: Rialto Cinemas Elmwood

Newly restored, Jacques Deray’s 1969 feature La Piscine (The Swimming Pool, currently playing at the Elmwood) stars some of the biggest names of swinging sixties cinema in a compelling tale of sexual frustration set in the sultry south of France. There’s Alain Delon, he of the perfect hair, as ad man Jean-Paul; Romy Schneider as gal pal Marianne; Maurice Ronet as Marianne’s old flame Harry; and Jane Birkin as Harry’s 18-year old daughter Pénélope.

Summering in a grand chateau, the foursome wile away the long days and warm nights drinking, eating, and sunning themselves around the titular pool. Penned by the legendary Jean-Claude Carrière, the story focuses on a series of little things — knowing glances, petty jealousies, and cutting remarks — that culminate in one very big (but decidedly underplayed) thing. Accompanied by an outstanding Michel Legrand score, La Piscine was remade in 2003 as Swimming Pool , a decent if unnecessary film starring Charlotte Rampling. If given a choice, opt for the original.