Ambitious and accomplished colonial tale
- Godland review by PD
This one probably isn't for you if a) you don't like long films in which nothing much happens or b) have a particular affection for horses, but Icelandic writer-director Hlynur Pálmason's latest is an ambitious and accomplished piece as he attempts to see his homeland through outside eyes, namely, the Danes who claimed it from the late 19th century. At once visually mesmerising and emotionally austere, the film takes the country’s colonialist past as its subject, pitting a late-19th-century man of faith against a force far stronger than him: a kind of Arctic 'There Will Be Blood.'
In the opening scene, Lutheran priest Lucas (brilliantly played by Elliott Crosset Hove) is sent by the Church of Denmark to establish a parish in Iceland, but it's immediately clear that he's not at all prepared for what lies ahead. Sincere and devout he may be, but the journey (which takes up the first hour of the film) breaks him the same way that Africa did Kurtz in 'Heart of Darkness,' (an obvious reference). Lucas is proactively curious, he carries a camera and pauses often to document his surroundings (we’re told at the outset that the film was inspired by seven historic photographs taken by a Danish priest, the first to document the country’s southeastern coast), but remains incongruously ridiculous among the strong, sturdy, practical men around him. When Lucas finally reaches his destination, a fellow Dane named Carl (Jacob Hauberg Lohmann, a great performance neatly balancing hospitality and menace) asks him, “Why the long journey, when you could have just sailed here?” Quite. Lucas intended the arduous detour as a way of appreciating Iceland, but instead, the trek merely turns him against it - a clear indictment of colonial enterprises.
After the vast, unforgiving landscapes of the first hour, the rest of the film is by contrast much more claustrophobic as it focuses on Lucas' interaction with the locals and his growing resentment of them and especially his former guide Ragnar, who he treats the way conquistadors did the Natives, as somehow subhuman. The language barrier between them serves as one of the film’s key themes, and often doesn't translate well via subtitles: Pálmason gives the film two names — “Vanskabte Land” in Danish, “Volaða land” in Icelandic — and neither means “Godland.” These titles overtly refer to a poem by Matthías Jochumsson called “Wretched Land,” which tore into a place he couldn’t abide. Lucas wrestles with similar feelings toward Iceland, and his behaviour becomes increasingly unpredictable as the film goes on - another of the film's unifying themes is the egocentrism of masculinity. At Carl’s table, Lucas is drawn to Carl’s eldest daughter, Anna, but appears dazed and seems to have forgotten how to pray, whilst Anna’s slightly wild younger sister Ida (excellently played by the director’s daughter, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir) merely perplexes him. Here, in this small, hardy community, Lucas is the proverbial fish out of water, having forgotten the bishop’s advice at the outset: for the mission to be a success, he must adapt to the locals and their customs. He is absolutely incapable of it.
All of this is enormously rich material to work with, rendered all the more engaging by the surroundings, and although Pálmason doesn’t make anything easy, he has a most unique sense of pacing, devoting months if not years to capturing images of a single location under changing conditions. As in 'A White, White Day,' there’s a time-lapse element here, as, for example, when the director features an overhead shot of a decomposing horse. Amongst all this there's some wonderful touches - a story about some mating eels and mass infidelity is haunting, whilst Lucas' opening turn in his role as a priest in his newly-built church is bleakly hilarious. Much to admire for those with time and patience!
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
Another excellent Arty-slow offering from Pálmason with Sigurdsson
- Godland review by RCO
A little more coherent than A White, White Day (also by Pálmason with Ingvar Sigurdsson as a brooding presence), and with definite shades of the Herzog-Kinski South American films (Aguire, Wrath of God and Fitzcaraldo) in the epic journey by a flawed hero (Elliott Crosset Hove here channelling Klaus Kinski) who has to confront his demons.
A film of two distinct parts, with an intro in the Bishops place in Denmark, and an outro on the snowy wastes of Iceland. The first part is the epic journey and then the second is almost as if Lucas has been delivered or re-born into another world or afterlife, which holds both promise of Elysian fields and the potential for despair and doom and sudden nemesis.
Another excellent piece of filmmaking by Pálmason - if you appreciate slow-paced arty films and/or Icelandic scenery, then you'll like this.
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.