Tag Archives: Iceland

When Reality Cracks: the Ominous Surreality of Lamb

This one is going to be a mess for me to write about. How can I comment about Valdimar Johansson’s debut movie Lamb, a movie that begs to be disclosed and analyzed from all angles, without ruining it for anyone who has not yet seen it and even if they take a bit to come to, would like to? The trailer, seen on TV, is a bit much already and gives away just enough before it becomes a spoiler in itself. All I can say is, go see it, or rent it once it comes out on streaming, pay no mind to any trailers, any reviews, any videos, and let it happen, untainted by bias. The less you know about this movie, the better off you will be.

Look, parenting is hard. I am not a direct parent per se but have assisted in the task. The events in Lamb, as off the limb as they are, happen to two people who not only lost a child but desperately want to be parents. However, Lamb does not start in this manner. Much like the fellow Icelandic movie A White, White Day, Lamb begins in dread, silence, and complete isolation. Instead of a car driving to an unsuspecting destiny across a foggy landscape, we get a married couple of sheep farmers, Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Gudnason), moving in near-silence about their days as they tend to their sheep and horses. There is a monotony about their actions, similar to the monotony of the landscape at the start of A White, White Day, that conveys an empty hole.

The event that takes the movie into its dark fable at its center occurs fairly early during the movie. We don’t get to see it come to life, but Maria’s and Ingvar’s facial expressions, which navigate the scope from perplexed to the kind that can only come after witnessing a miracle, tell us all we need to know. It’s the decision that follows shortly after that then drives the story. The lengths to which both Maria and Ingvar will go to not only act as this were the most quotidian thing in the world but to also, protect it from any outside intrusion, becomes Lamb‘s driving force. Oh, but if only they knew how far the repercussions from their actions will go…

This is the type of movie that viewers will either get or they will not. Its concept seems far-fetched, but switch the “gift” that Maria and Ingvar receive to let’s say… something less strange, and you may even say this could be a case of kidnapping, which by default creates an imbalance. Maria’s behavior, more so than Ingvar, is extremely telling in how protective she becomes, how far she is willing to fill the imbalance in her own life. To see a woman devolve from an otherwise unassuming farmer to ruthless killer in one visually jarring scene made all the crueler by the vastness of its surroundings and how the camera lingers shortly after as Maria performs methodic disposal of evidence is to see a performance that moves from sanity into much greyer, nebulous lines.

Then you see an outsider, revealed to be a family relative, who witnesses this act of brutality (with nods to the violence that men inflict upon defenseless animals, as seen previously in the 2020 documentary Gunda) and infiltrates Maria’s and Ingvar’s house and speaks for the audience. That is, right up until he himself decides to take matters into his hands (in one of the movie’s more chilling sequences) and finds that as bizarre as it may seem, he also has to accept whatever nightmare reality has invaded the real world. Perhaps in avoiding this action he gets spared the more bizarre comeuppance that transpires in the movie’s veer into cosmic tragedy and renders the family unit to shreds.

If Lamb has any message, it would be simply: be careful what you claim as your own. Maybe even more succinctly: respect nature; don’t force nurture. What might come back claiming its own might be just as unforgiving as you were with an animal who also couldn’t experience motherhood.

Woman at war blends disparate styles to create an unclassifiable eco-thriller with a wink

Sometimes you say you’re going to watch a movie or read that new book, and you place it in your queue where it sits and sits and sits. That is the case of Woman at War, a 2018 film by Benedikt Erlingsson (and follow-up to his quirky debut Of Horses and Men from 2013) that follows Halla (the regal Halldora Geirharosdottir), a chorus teacher living in Reykjavik who unbeknownst to everyone who knows her, moonlights as an eco-terrorist (or eco-activist, pick your term; I’ll stick with the former and I’ll tell you why later). Intensely focused on preventing an aluminum factory that could potentially contaminate Reykjavik, she has no problem decimating drone cameras, power lines — heck, entire towers! — in order to render any further development dead in Iceland’s as-yet pristine waters.

Trouble arrives — as it would — from a few angles. First, a manhunt predictably ensues, but it is, if anything, predictable. Second, a letter of adoption from a Ukrainian agency now gives Halla the chance to adopt and raise a little girl of her own and thus, fulfilling her dreams of motherhood. While Halla continues to evade officers in sometimes truly daring ways, the urgency of her mission, now compounded by the urgency of her having to leave to Ukraine to fetch her daughter, pushes Hall against a crossroads.

Erlingsson refuses to give into genre conventions which make his movie a weird, but totally satisfying experience. His Woman at War is part-action, part character study, part surreal thriller that offers a unique but dry sense of humor and a clever, unobtrusive music score played by stand-ins both Icelandic and Ukrainian that serve as a Greek chorus and subtly impose a slight effect on Halla’s own character and the chronology of her movements. A touch of 40s screwball enters the movie in bringing in a twin sister also played. by Gerhardsdottir, and while at first it seems it might only be to grant a sense of surreality, the story reveals much more later on.

There seems to be a running commentary on how tourists – and most global travelers who may not look like the ideal race – get treated overseas. A minor character, Julio Castillo, played by the actor of the same name (who also had an observer-like character in Of Horses and Men), repeatedly gets assaulted by officers who continually (and ineffectually) identify him as a terrorist. Julio, who also often breaks the fourth wall, becomes every tourist or immigrant who invariably tends to receive the brunt of the law while its more privileged folk run rampant and create chaos (and let’s not romanticize Halla; she is an eco-terrorist, she just happens to be a nice one with noble motives). An almost symbolic exchange occurs late in the movie between Halla and Julio that Erlingsson leaves unresolved, but he makes his point.

Woman at War is available on DVD formats and Prime. See it before Jodie Foster Americanizes it and thus saps it from all its light, comedic touches.