Godland – movie review

Godland was the centrepiece of the recent Scandinavian Film Festival, and now this slow moving but visually stunning Danish drama gains a cinematic release.

The film is set in the frozen inhospitable wilds of Iceland in the 19th century. Lucas (Elliot Crossett Hove) is a young idealistic Lutheran priest who is sent to Iceland to oversee the construction of a new church in a remote Danish community. But rather than take a boat to his destination, Lucas insists on travelling overland so that he can photograph the landscape with his camera. His guide on this arduous journey is the gruff Icelander Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), who resents Danes and makes his distrust and dislike of Lucas patently obvious. Lucas refuses to take Ragnar’s advice. Accompanied by a translator (Hilmar Guojonsson), Lucas does he make any effort to learn the language or understand the wilderness he travels through.

Suffering from extreme exhaustion Lucas eventually falls seriously ill. He is transported to the remote community where he is slowly nursed back to health by Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) who slowly falls in love with the young priest despite the warnings of her father Carl (Jacob Lohmann). This brings an element of tension to the second half of the film as Lucas suffers a crisis of faith.

Hove makes for a pretty cold Lucas, and it’s hard to empathise with his character.

This bleak film was supposedly inspired by a series of photographs of Iceland’s remote wilderness taken by a priest and found in a wooden box on the southeast coast of Iceland. Icelandic director Hlynur Palmason (A White, White Day) has shot the film in the boxy Academy ratio, which somehow adds a claustrophobic feel to the material. The film was beautifully shot by Palmason’s regular cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff, who makes the most of the harsh landscapes. This is a visually stunning film and von Hausswolff gives us some striking imagery. You can almost feel the cold. The sound design from Kristian Eldnes Andersen (Nymphomaniac) is also evocative. The script from Palmason examines notions of colonialism and religion.

Godland evokes memories of other films featuring priests in remote locations such as Roland Joffe’s The Mission, and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, as well as Werner Herzog’s films like Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, The Wrath of God. However, Palmason also maintains a deliberately slow and leisurely pace for the film’s 143-minute running time, which means this esoteric film will not be suited to everyone’s taste.

Greg King

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