“Godland”, a Way of the Cross in Iceland

Godland ***

from Hlynur Palmason

Danish film, Icelandic, 2 h 23

Seven glass plates, daguerreotype type, dating from the end of the 19th centurye century, were found in Iceland in a wooden chest. These photographs, taken by a priest, are the oldest images of the eastern coast of the island. They are the ones who inspired this stunningly beautiful film by Icelandic director Hlynur Palmason, discovered at the last Cannes Film Festival in the “Un Certain Regard” section.

Dizzying landscapes

They also inspired the shape with a square format with rounded edges and bordered in black which underlines all the photographic dimension. This aesthetic bias is not just an artifice in the filmmaker’s approach, as it encloses in the same frame, and on the same scale, the characters and the dizzying landscapes that surround them.

Because it is indeed this struggle between man and nature, the earthly and the spiritual that is at issue in this western-style journey which turns into the Stations of the Cross for its hero, Lucas.

A journey that quickly turns to the test

An enthusiastic and ambitious young Lutheran priest, an amateur photographer in his spare time, the latter put all the ardor of his faith into the mission entrusted to him by his pastor: to go to Iceland, a territory dominated by the Danish crown, to build a church for a community of settlers settled in the wildest part of the island. He arrives on a beach one summer day, armed with his only camera, a consecrated cross and his books. A translator accompanies him, the only link to communicate with the local population reluctant to speak Danish.

His journey, begun in the joy and splendor of these tormented landscapes, quickly turns to the test for this naive young man who comes up against both the hostility of the wild nature and of Ragnar his Icelandic guide, a rough man. and not very talkative who seems to be one with the elements and does not hide his contempt for the occupying power.

While a volcano rumbles, threatening to erupt at any moment, this face to face punctuated by the slow progression of the men on horseback and the bivouacs occupies the entire first part of the film. He thus makes us almost physically experience the time of the trip and the immensity of the place.

The aridity of the staging never undermines the dramatic power of the story

The men there seem to be very little and Lucas, once he arrives safely, will come out physically and morally broken by this confrontation. To the point of seeing his faith and his reason waver despite the warm welcome reserved for him by the community for which he is going to build a church, and despite the love that the daughter of the main landowner has for him. The sweetness of this second part, which gives rise to magnificent scenes of village festivals, contrasts with the inner torments that plague the young man.

Hlynur Palmason, talented Icelandic filmmaker (Such a white day, Winter brothers), films the landscapes of his native region like no other and the aridity of his staging never undermines the dramatic power of his story. Through this almost metaphysical journey, he tells us about the conflict between Denmark and Iceland, between spirit and matter, but also between men and within themselves. It is symbolized by the confrontation between the priest and his guide who owes all its intensity to their extraordinary performers – Elliott Crosset Hove and Ingvar Sigurösson.


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