FOUR STARS God willing, a young priest is going to build a church in a remote Icelandic community.
PERIOD DRAMA DENMARK Danish #GODLAND
Starring Elliott Crosset Hove, Ingvar Sigurdsson
Placing art firmly in arthouse, Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason’s breathtaking work takes no prisoners. It expects a lot; from its characters, its actors and its audience. No one, and I mean no one, gets off lightly.
In remote and forbidding 19th century Iceland (then a Danish colony), a Lutheran priest is sent to a distant settlement where he’ll build a church, promote God, take photos, document the land and its people. His is not an easy task as early scenes aboard a tiny boat in a large ocean confirm. One that doesn’t get any easier. Lucas is neither friendly nor tolerant of those charged with getting him to the settlement. Transport is feeble, the weather is hostile, the landscape more so.
Although GODLAND is a unique and distinctive work, there are faint echoes of Roland Joffe’s THE MISSION or Werner Herzhog’s FITZCARRALDO to be heard. First there’s achingly beautiful cinematography that evocatively captures wild terrain in all its fearsome moods. There’s also religious fervour and failure, not to mention a crisis of faith as the priest travels deep into country completely alien to the young man. The further he goes, the lighter becomes his grip on self, purpose and reality until even his duty to God becomes a distant memory.
Pálmason’s incredibly minimalist approach places these themes centre frame and gives us plenty of time to contemplate their significance. There’s a meditative quality to the film’s construction with long tracks in a long film (two hours twenty) which are given over to apparently little, the simple taking of a photograph perhaps. Yet these and other less conventional scenes (a decomposing horse) invite us deep into the priests psyche and present an opportunity to reflect on our own.
Matters don’t improve once he finally reaches the village and construction on the church begins. He takes up with a local girl to the disapproval of her father and many town elders. It’s here that the vastness of the country contracts to a claustrophobic second act in which colonial arrogance is pitted against religious enlightenment. It’s a combustable mix that could easily take down the church in a blaze of metaphorical glory.
At its core, GODLAND is a reflection on hubris in the face of hostility, be that a country, a people or a god. It questions the purpose and value of faith. It challenges human arrogance and impermanence. It’s provocative, challenging and best of all, highly original.