Lamb – movie review

Following Nordic tradition, Lamb is a mystery that becomes more and more compelling the longer it goes. It’s a slow-moving, supernatural drama that only comes into its own after an incident more than a quarter of an hour in.

Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) are a hardworking, childless farming couple in remote, rural Iceland. They run sheep and appear happy and comfortable with their lifestyle. They deal seemingly effortlessly with the terrain and vicissitudes in weather, along with everyday hiccups, like a tractor that repeatedly breaks down, but are self-sufficient. A shock in the barn one day sees a change to their daily routine. Suddenly, they are nursing a tiny lamb, which Maria takes to like a babe in arms. In time, Ingvar too is “sold”. Named Ada, she sleeps in a child’s cot next to their bed. But this is no ordinary lamb, and the pair become distraught when Ada suddenly disappears.

Things take a further turn after the unexpected arrival of Ingvar’s brother Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson). Petur clearly has issues, a lack of money amongst them. Ingvar invites him to stay for as long as he likes. Petur is immediately uncomfortable with the bond Maria and Ingvar have developed with Ada. More than that, he shows more than a passing interest in Maria, which makes her decidedly uncomfortable. Through it all, Ada continues to blossom.

Lamb is the work of writers Sjon and Valdimar Johannsson, the latter of whom makes his feature film directorial debut. It draws much from Icelandic folk tales and the surreal. It’s undoubtedly a mind bender, as you pause to reflect upon exactly what’s going on. I’ve deliberately left out significant plot developments, so as not to spoil the surprises, but even as the final credits roll, Lamb is a film that invites you to ponder just what the writers were getting at. I didn’t mind that, but there will be those that do (those that are looking for a logical explanation).

I appreciated the strength of the performances, which give the movie credibility and pathos. Noomi Rapace, who shot to prominence in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is a shining light, equally adaptable at portraying light and shade and showing resilience. Cinematographer Eli Arenson does a fine job capturing not only the landscape but facial expressions, which shed light on the feelings of the protagonists.

It’s not hard to see why Lamb won the Un Certain Regard prize for originality at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Alex First

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