Cannes Film Festival – Deadline

Lucas’ bishop warns him of the dangers before he embarks on ministry to an isolated community of Icelanders in the Cannes Un Certain Regard headline Godland. “It’s easy to go crazy over there,” he explains at his dining table in Copenhagen, relentlessly munching on the fabulous feast on offer. Iceland, where the sun never sets on summer nights, where the weather is extreme, the landscape gloomily monumental: just remember the apostles, “a group of lonely men”, advises the bishop in s wiping his mouth. Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) doesn’t eat; a glance tells you that he is a priest with an ascetic bent.

He clearly feels his isolation as he sets out with guides and assistants through the sphagnum moss to his new parish. They have a tight schedule, with a late summer deadline to build his church and gather his flock in a weekly show of piety. His main guide is Ragnor, a surly Icelandic played with granite toughness by Ingvar Sigurdsson – like Hove, a regular collaborator of director Hlynur Palmason – who can read shifting rivers, fight with horses and endure any deprivation without to complain.

Ragnor only speaks Icelandic; Lucas only speaks Danish and, despite his translator’s drill, seems unable to catch a single local word. It is a barrier that thickens to become an impassable wall. They don’t need to exchange their points of view to know that they embody two fundamentally opposed ways of being. The cumbersome photographic equipment that Lucas insists on carrying over the mountains, occasionally arranging his entourage to take a photo for posterity, can be read as a metaphor for the burden of absurdity he brings to this desert. The trip itself is a townsman’s whim; everything in Iceland is delivered by boat. Lucas loves the idea of ​​an epic cross-country trip. To meet people, he says, but there is no one to meet. This may be his first sign of madness.

That wilderness itself is at the center of the story is no surprise. What constantly surprises, at least for those who haven’t seen Palmason’s previous two films, is how he bends the dark majesty of this landscape to his own aesthetic purpose, creating two-dimensional patterns from the mesh streams in the valleys and color field backdrops of mountain walls of moss and rock. Iceland offers endless vistas; Palmason resists the temptation to look beautiful by using the Academy ratio, so the film’s image is almost a square. When the camera is on a figure, you don’t see a person in a landscape, flanked or even overshadowed by their magnificence. We see a whole person. Sometimes we see a monster.

Lucas almost dies during the trip. No loss, one might think – Ragnor would think, for sure – compared to the other men and horses lost along the way, thanks in large part to Lucas’ conceited refusal to bow to the demands of the weather. The survivors carry him however, taking him to the village which he must serve on a stretcher. His cantonment is the home of a well-to-do farmer. The farmhouse living room, with its lace curtains and polished dining table, looks incredibly fresh and charming.

Just like his two daughters. Palmason’s charming daughter, Ida, shows off some horse riding tricks in a film half populated by horses and dogs. His older sister Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) is of marriageable age. As his health improved, Lucas clearly felt the pull of Anna’s liveliness and feelings that weren’t entirely pure. Meanwhile, Ragnor devotes his energies to helping build the church, ominously hammering nails into wood in the summer sun in scenes that look like the upside of Peter Weir’s Witness. He hasn’t forgotten how much he hates this rambunctious priest.

Godland moves slowly, sometimes painfully. It must, if it wants to convey the meaning of the journey, not as a series of vivid encounters with danger, but as long and exhausting. Time is, indeed, the very essence of the film. Palmason is fascinated by the weather in general, but especially by the changing seasons. We see the scaffolding of the church wrapped in its wooden cladding as the first snow falls. We see the passage of time recorded in the death and gradual decay of a fallen horse, a sequence the director filmed over two years. We feel the ravages of time on Lucas’ skinny body and fragile mind.

Palmason is a visionary, pursuing his vision with the kind of disciplined determination that keeps him coming back to take more pictures of a dead horse. The public is not necessarily so disciplined; it is possible to find yourself adrift in thoughts of what to eat for dinner. But then the light changes, Sigurdsson’s face twitches, and you’re back on the path, teetering on the edge of a mountain and heading for a finale that has the force of tragedy. Palmason will no doubt continue to work to make a film that strikes that elusive balance between pace and pitch. He is so close now.

About Debra D. Johnson

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