‘Godland’ review: Beauty and the priest

In the bleak and stunning “Godland,” a 19th century Danish priest named Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) tends to make the long, arduous trek north to Iceland, in which he seeks to create and guide a church in a smaller coastal settlement.

Lucas also takes place to be an newbie photographer, and the hefty camera tools he carries on his back again suggests he isn’t the brightest or most realistic of ministers. Somewhat than basically sail to his spot, which would be safer and more quickly, he has decided to vacation on foot and horseback around miles of harsh, unforgiving terrain, using photographs of the Icelandic people today and landscapes he encounters along the way. It is an artistic impulse and an arrogant, imperialist 1, and it will have significant effects for Lucas and people accompanying him on his journey.

Lucas is of program an unwitting digital camera issue himself, particularly that of the gifted Icelandic author-director Hlynur Pálmason and his cinematographer, Maria von Hausswolff. “Godland,” stunningly shot on 35-millimeter movie, mimics the appear of previous photographs with its square frames and rounded corners — a visible alternative that originally implies we’re exploring Iceland and its purely natural miracles by means of Lucas’ eyes.

Some scenes do seem to have been filmed about the priest’s shoulder, this sort of as an intimately in depth sequence in which he painstakingly sharpens his photographic plates and prepares them with egg white. (The movie was loosely impressed by seven damp-plate images, taken by a Danish priest, that are deemed the first visual record of Iceland’s southeastern coast.)

But though this is Lucas’ mission and his tale, it pointedly does not unfold totally from his point of view. At times, Pálmason frames the motion from a God’s-eye length, dwarfing Lucas and his fellow vacationers versus grassy slopes and craggy mountains. Later on in the tale, the editor, Julius Krebs Damsbo, will cycle by means of the seasons in a few transient nevertheless-frame montages, concentrating on a stretch of wilderness or a lifeless horse’s remains, as if to remind us of the impermanence and cosmic insignificance of all residing matters.

A man looking over a woman's shoulder.

Elliott Crosset Hove and Vic Carmen Sonne in the film “Godland.”

(Janus Movies)

From time to time, way too, the digicam aligns by itself with the silent, contemptuous gaze of Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), the Icelandic farmer hired to guide Lucas on his way north. For if “Godland” is a pitiless epic of person versus nature, it also pits guy versus person.

Ragnar, the sort of fellow for whom driving a horse and fording a river are next nature, despises Lucas from the instant they fulfill, and the antipathy proves much more than mutual. It doesn’t enable that Lucas can’t communicate Icelandic, and that Ragnar just can’t or won’t talk Danish. (Their kindly interpreter, played by Hilmar Guðjónsson, has his work slice out for him so do the movie’s diligently delineated English subtitles.) Each males are fatally stubborn, though Ragnar is the humbler, wiser a single by far. He is aware of the area and its elemental perils, and he is aware only a idiot would try out to check people perils or bend them to his will.

Lucas has no this sort of knowledge and even fewer self-knowledge, and his excursion, which he only hardly survives (at the very least a single fellow traveler does not), is a document of persistent arrogance, reckless stupidity and dismal failure. And Crosset Hove’s performance, from which he has purged each individual whisper of charm if not sympathy, is an outstanding reminder of the change in between a protagonist and a hero. Kindness and endurance, among the other Christian ministerial imperatives, rarely manifest them selves in Lucas’ pinched, unsmiling countenance, his tough stares and occasional dying glares. Nor does he appear to evince any thing to consider or curiosity with regard to the locals he meets and sometimes photos. Iceland alone, with its gorgeous rock formations, crashing waterfalls and impossibly attractive sunsets, duly transfixes him, but that vindicates only his vision, not his character.

“Godland” is not Pálmason’s to start with review of sociopathy in frigid isolation nor is it his first time performing with the effectively-paired Crosset Hove and Sigurðsson. (You can see them in the director’s before functions “Winter Brothers” and “A White, White Working day,” respectively.) Even a lot more than “Silence,” Shūsako Endō’s substantially-tailored novel about 17th century Portuguese missionaries in Japan, the film is a withering chronicle of non secular hubris.

Unsurprisingly, it is also a tale about the willful blindness of colonialism, and one that gains from Pálmason’s very own dual-layered identification as an Icelandic-born filmmaker who expended many several years studying and living in Denmark. From the opening scene of Lucas receiving his recommendations from an more mature priest, there is a clear, if understated, tension concerning the Danish ruling powers and what they suppose to be their untamed island topics, so determined in their need to have for get, civilization and God.

Several people posed together outdoors in a group photo.

An image from the film “Godland.”

(Janus Films)

That assumption is quietly, surgically dismantled once Lucas comes at the settlement and the tough do the job of church building starts. His schedule, even though a lot easier and considerably less bodily arduous than his travels, feels no less calculated to expose his each and every fault and weakness. Lucas spends some time recuperating in the household of a farmer, Carl (a superbly restrained Jacob Hauberg Lohmann), who, not not like Ragnar, measurements up the priest with withering accuracy. Carl’s two daughters — the younger, cost-free-spirited Ida (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir) and specially the older, marryable Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) — appear on their customer a lot more favorably, even as they engage in their areas in a drama that is destined to finish badly for him.

That inevitability may leach the film of some shock in its grim closing moments, which is not to say that the relaxation of this steadily gripping, normally mordantly humorous film is simple to forecast or pin down. Though far more than a single of Lucas’ upcoming parishioners professes a weary disinterest in God, Pálmason himself seems to strike a more ambivalent pose. The trouble with this priest — just one of them, anyway — may possibly not be an excess of spiritual fervor but relatively a dearth of it, a deficiency of reverence for the elegance that Pálmason’s digicam exalts in every magisterial frame. Lucas may possibly be a blind wretch, but the generation as a result of which he stumbles is a supply of under no circumstances-ending awe.


In Danish and Icelandic with English subtitles

Not rated

Jogging time: 2 hrs, 23 minutes

Participating in: Starts off Feb. 10 at Laemmle Glendale and Laemmle Monica Movie Middle, Santa Monica

Shirley McQuay

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