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Categorisation: Supernatural Drama
Availability: In cinemas – Icelandic with subtitles
Plot: This strange film starts with eerie Icelandic scenes of an isolated farm. The snow-capped mountains are beautiful, but the horses are unsettled sensing that there is something creepy in their midst. In the barn sheep with strange expressions look cautiously about them. Then one of the sheep lies exhausted on the wooden floor beside the pen. We need to pay attention to these early scenes as it becomes increasingly important later on. A childless farming couple go about their daily activities in 24 hour daylight. Although it’s springtime, the husband, Ingvar, feeds the sheep in the barn as there is insufficient grass growing outside. Maria, his wife, looks ominously out of the window, also sensing that things are somehow out-of-tune. They work together delivering their lambs, then one day they deliver a lamb that they connect to in an unusual way. This sets the scene for a series of sometimes humorous, but mostly disturbing events that change their lives.
Cast: There are only three people with significant roles in this film – Naomi Rapace playing Maria, Hilmir Snær Gudmason playing her husband Ingvar, and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Pétur, Ingvar’s brother. They are all excellent. Mostly stern and serious, they nevertheless bring an expressive presence. There is a lovely scene when the three are watching a sporting game together on TV – it’s a rare, and funny example of how normally stern characters let their hair down. The rest of the action involves the animals, and it’s astonishing what insights we get from them. Not only the sheep look nervous – the dog and the cat do too. There is something rotten in the state of Iceland, and they all know it.
Filming and Setting: The cinematography is beautiful in this film. The landscape is spectacular and we get a real sense of the rugged existence of life on an isolated Icelandic farm. The scenes of farm life are not necessarily for the squeamish, but as the couple work together there is an engaging tenderness that is a mark of quality filmmaking – often silent, yet believably meaningful.
Personal Comments: This is a very curious film that is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a Nordic fairytale with sinister and supernatural elements, and like the original Grimm fairy tales, it is very grim indeed. Yet Valdimar Jóhannsson’s directorial debut brings us a tender story of loss, childlessness, joylessness and happiness, all communicated through relatively few words. I suspect this is not a film for everyone, in fact, it may be a film for hardly anybody – there were only four of us in the cinema the night we decided to give it a try (by comparison, the new James Bond film was fully booked). But if you enjoy a seriously weird experimental film with a discomforting supernatural edge, you may enjoy it. And it’s likely to linger long after the credits.