Gunnar lives a quiet life by the sea. He works at the lighthouse, where he lives. And his routine is very simple and solitary: he wakes up, eats breakfast, tends to the lighthouse and occasionally takes a bath in a tub overlooking the ocean. Each day passes, marked off carefully on a calendar in his living quarters.
But Gunnar’s routine is disrupted when an injured mermaid washes up on the shore after high tide one day. He tends to the mermaid’s tail, letting her keep wet in his bathtub. But on his bath day, he deposits her back into the sea. But he soon discovers he misses her presence, though he may have lost her for good.
Written and directed by Ole-Andre Ronneberg, this lovely short fantasy-drama captures the tension between sticking with what we know and breaking out of our routines. Gunnar’s life is profoundly pared-down and quiet, and the first few minutes of the film capture the silences, rituals and horizons of his world. Life at the lighthouse is gorgeous and full of natural beauty, with its clear gorgeous light, horizons of sky and sea and voluptuous banks of clouds, all rendered in exquisite cinematography and editing that luxuriates in the small moments of Gunnar’s life. But it’s also very lonely, and Gunnar has no one to talk to or even be around.
Gunnar’s life changes when a mermaid washes up on the shore. She’s in pain from an injured tail, and Gunnar rushes to get her to his bathtub. He tends to her tail and feeds her, and even spends companionable silence with her. The progression of their companionship is charted with the same even, contemplative pace as much of Gunnar’s life, with a certain matter-of-fact charm.
The old, ramshackle lighthouse-keeper and the lovely young mermaid — played by actors Viggo Solum and Anne Cecilie Ukkelberg with an understated naturalism — make for a sweetly unlikely pair, but they also come to represent the comfort and joy of companionship and an almost primal desire for togetherness. That togetherness, though, is disrupted by Gunnar’s insistence on keeping to the ritualized routine he’s developed during his tenure at the lighthouse.
Much of “Bathtub by the Sea” is silent, as fitting to such a taciturn character and beautifully desolate setting. But it is rich with a quiet sort of magic and enchantment, with a feeling for how the natural environment shapes experience and emotion. But nothing lasts forever, and even nature itself is in constant flux and evolution. The story ends when Gunnar receives some news that will change his life forever, but the conclusion for both Gunnar and the viewer has a sense of hope and possibility. Things change and routines must adapt, after all, but friendship and devotion are the constants that make it all bearable.