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HomeMovie Review‘Godland’ Assessment: This Arrestingly Stunning Journey Into the Unknown

‘Godland’ Assessment: This Arrestingly Stunning Journey Into the Unknown

Hlynur Pálmason’s newest maps the psychological and bodily decay of a nineteenth century Danish priest tasked with overseeing the development of a church in a distant nook of Iceland.


The life and work of writer-director Hlynur Pálmason appears suspended in a liminal area between his homeland of Iceland and the neighboring Scandinavian nation of Denmark, the place he studied filmmaking and has now raised a household. And nowhere is that interstitial standing extra evidently mirrored than in his third and most interesting function but, “Godland,” an arrestingly stunning and philosophically imposing bilingual historic drama in regards to the conceitedness of mankind within the face of nature’s unforgiving prowess, the inherent failures of colonial enterprises, and the way these components configure the cultural identities of people.

As in Pálmason’s earlier research of seemingly mild-mannered male characters on the point of a violent outburst, “Winter Brothers” and “A White, White Day,” his newest maps the psychological and bodily decay of Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), a nineteenth century Danish priest of the Lutheran religion tasked with overseeing the development of a church in a distant nook of Iceland, on the time nonetheless a territory a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Like in his different two options, the filmmaker entails the huge landscapes and infrequently brutal climate situations of his chosen settings as defining parts that affect his males’s turbulent emotional arcs.

Textual content in each Danish and Icelandic explains that the idea for this fiction is a set of seven moist plate images that stay as sole documentation of a non secular man’s odyssey. As soon as Lucas is on its technique to the island, the movie’s title seems in each Danish and Icelandic, not on the identical time, however every language in its personal separate, color-coded title card. That distinction serves as first indication that that is in actual fact extra of a twin journey, with Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), the proud and far older Icelandic information employed to get Lucas to his vacation spot, performing because the parallel entity alongside for the treacherous journey.

In each theme and type, “Godland” is most harking back to Lisandro Alonso’s “Jauja,” additionally a couple of Danish man in a overseas, unwelcoming land (Argentina in that case), although it too calls to thoughts Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama” and even Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” — motion pictures about cussed outsiders bent on conquering or evangelizing communities and environments that reject them. Like Alonso did for “Jauja,” Pálmason opts for the boxy 1.33.1 side ratio in “Godland,” which in flip mimics Lucas’ images of Iceland’s folks and vistas.

Different recurrent marks of Pálmason’s cinematic dialect, the product of his continued partnership with Swedish cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff, stand. There are the leisurely paced monitoring photographs that slowly reveal a grand panorama of visible info, the sequence of tableaus of all of the characters we’ve encountered via the story, or a montage of seasons altering that highlights each the unmovable features of the picture in addition to the impermanent variables, which additionally seem in “Winter Brothers” and “A White, White Day.”



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Clumsy at sensible affairs, Lucas fails to take this land by itself phrases, with the rugged gorgeousness of its unforgiving terrain, and as a substitute calls for for it to obey his will. For a person of God, it’s his ego and a way of superiority over Icelanders that drive his trigger. The images he so zealously collects demand an unnatural stillness in a world that thrives on chaos, thus representing an try at immortalizing that which is supposed to be devoured and remodeled by time and by the land itself. In selecting what to incorporate in his frames, he grants sure issues added worth and never others; he performs God via the lens.

His counterpart, Ragnar, symbolizes a communion with the indomitable, the acceptance of the forces we mortals can’t management, and subsequently he’s fostered a relationship with nature that leads with humbleness and respect. He is aware of methods to fish, when to cross a river, and methods to survive comparatively comfortably within the strikingly inhospitable land of his start. For some time, one might argue Ragnar is extra of a Godly man than Lucas, on condition that he’s aware of his insignificance and innately flawed existence. If we selected to interpret spirituality that approach, then Lucas and the dogma of Christianity come off because the extra primitive tackle it.

Initially, Lucas reveals a semi-open disposition to expertise Iceland’s unspoiled wonders by the hand of an interpreter (Hilmar Guðjónsson) who facilitates not solely communication however cultural exchanges. However as soon as tragedy strikes and no translation is accessible, Lucas’ incapacity and unwillingness to grasp Ragnar take over. When every get together tries to achieve into the opposite’s area, battle arises, comparable to when Lucas reveals his incapacity to journey a horse, which earns him humiliation; or when Ragnar asks Lucas to take his picture, a request the Dane takes with virulent condescension. Their nationalistic vitriol lingers and accumulates underneath the floor, like a volcano on the verge of a catastrophic eruption.

Finally, the 2 will get right into a managed bodily altercation, underneath the watchful eye of a 3rd man, a father (Jacob Hauberg Lohmann), extra attuned to residing someplace in between the Danish understanding of civilization and the Icelandic connection to the fundamental. However when the remnants of Ragnar’s politeness for the priest vanish, he declares his disdain for all issues Danish, together with the language that he realized towards his will. Not that Lucas ever suppressed his scorn for Iceland, nevertheless it’s Ragnar’s admission that he too performed God, taking his warped model of justice towards the oppressor by his personal hand, that ideas their slow-brewing hatred over the sting.

Pálmason first introduced collectively the 2 actors within the 2014 brief movie “A Painter,” the place Sigurdsson performed a annoyed father to Crosset Hove. Later, every of them starred in one in every of his options set of their respective counties: Crosset Hove as a disturbed employee in a limestone mine in Denmark for “Winter Brothers” and Sigurdsson as a former police officer and widower within the Icelandic movie “A White, White Day.” That he reteamed them for “Godland” constitutes a compelling meta layer in sync with the general duality at play.

Though Pálmason’s oeuvre repeatedly examines the aggressive impulses of males born from the worst of masculinity, the ladies in his movies, “Godland” included, provide a wiser, serene engagement with life’s tribulations. The sisters Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and Ída (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), who come into contact with Lucas upon his arrival to a small settlement the place the church will probably be erected, are the product of the identical in-betweenness that permeates the remainder of the story, daughters to a Danish father and an Icelandic mom.

“In the future I’ll journey from my residence in Iceland to my residence in Denmark,” says Anna to Lucas about how she thinks of her place on the planet. Born in Denmark, she prefers to talk Danish, whereas the youthful, extra intrepid Ída has recognized no different residence than Iceland. Past the display, the 2 commanding actresses additionally embody Pálmason’s dichotomy: Sonne, from Denmark, starred in “Winter Brothers” and Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, from Iceland, in “A White, White Day.”

Whether or not the time period godland refers back to the frozen Icelandic pastures or the refinement of the Danish mainland left behind, depends upon what we every worth most. Nonetheless, for outsiders, not aware about the intercultural dynamics of those two nations whose histories intertwine over centuries, the dispute between Iceland and Denmark on display, personified in Lucas and Ragnar, reads relevant to different latitudes, as a result of at its core it hinges on the colonizer’s confidence that their lifestyle reigns supreme, solely to be confirmed incorrect. Lucas’ images say extra about his want for management than in regards to the Icelanders’ shortcomings.

With “Godland,” Pálmason — one of many foremost figures in Icelandic cinema alongside Benedikt Erlingsson (“Of Horses and Males,” “Lady at Warfare”) — has enlisted us for a voyage of visible splendor, as terrifying as it’s breathtaking, and divine contemplation. In cinema, he’s discovered a no man’s land the place two opposing worldviews can have a visceral dialogue.

Grade: A-

Janus Movies will launch “Godland” at New York’s IFC Heart on Friday, February 3, with a nationwide rollout to comply with.

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