Sunday, October 17, 2021

Lamb: Iceland’s dark answer to Stuart Little is a film not easily forgotten

Lamb (M, 106mins) Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson ****

Despite the title and its country of origin, this is not a prequel or sequel to 2015’s Rams.

Yes, it’s a cleverly crafted rural Icelandic tale of sheep farming, few words and fraternal tensions shot in the style of a John Ford western (lots of big landscapes and doorway framing), but this sometimes dark fantasy horror is a very different beast to Grimur Hakonarson’s Cannes award-winning drama.

Farmers Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) eke out an existence raising ovines in a valley prone to freezing winter temperatures. Still coming to terms with a tragedy, the pair throw themselves into their work, only exchanging small talk over the breakfast table. “They’re saying time travel is possible now,” Ingvar imparts after reading the local paper. “I’m in no hurry to see the future,” offers Maria in morose response.

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However, their sometimes icy exchanges thaw on Christmas Eve when one of their flock gives birth to an unusual offspring. Taking it in and naming it after a previous shared love, the pair decide to raise “Ada” as their own.

Unfortunately, the mother they took it from is clearly distressed and wants her child back, while Ingvar’s brother Petur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) is shocked by what he sees. “What is this?” he asks somewhat incredulously. “Happiness,” is Ingvar’s immediate reply.

Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Noomi Rapace star in Lamb.

Supplied

Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Noomi Rapace star in Lamb.

A kind of bleak, black version of Stuart Little, Lamb is yet more evidence, after Rams, Woman at War and Arctic, of the impressive current state of Icelandic cinema. The Nordic island nation of just over 350,000 is definitely punching above its weight when it comes to vibrant, resonant and evocative storytelling at the moment.

In his debut feature, director and co-writer Valdimar Jóhannsson, best known for his special-effects work on movies likes and The Tomorrow War, does a magnificent job of seamlessly integrating the fantastical elements into what is essentially a domestic drama, and drawing the viewer into the story mainly by placing much of the action just outside the frame.

So many scenes feature the central trio reacting to something slightly off-screen, a tactic that, rather than infuriate, keeps you riveted to the action and desperate to catch that one moment of revelation.

In Lamb, Noomi Rapace delivers a truly heartfelt performance as a mother determined to hang onto her new charge by whatever means necessary.

Supplied

In Lamb, Noomi Rapace delivers a truly heartfelt performance as a mother determined to hang onto her new charge by whatever means necessary.

The terrific use of reflections, sound and point-of-view and overhead shots also significantly adds to the rich atmosphere.

Credit as well must go to Jóhannsson and co-writer Sjon (who wrote the lyrics for Lars Von Trier’s musical melodrama Dancer in the Dark) for managing to make all the animals of the farm characters in themselves, without having to resort to anthropomorphising them.

It certainly equally helps that Guðnason and Swedish star Rapace (who spent time living in Iceland as a child) are utterly convincing as the couple desperate to fill a hole in their life.

The latter, in particular, rocking a series of impressive woollen knit jumpers, delivers a truly heartfelt performance as a mother determined to hang onto her new charge by whatever means necessary.

Reminiscent in style and setting of New Zealand’s own The Price of Milk, Lamb is a haunting tale whose horrors are heightened by the day-to-day domesticity it effectively portrays.

Lamb begins screening in select cinemas on October 14.

This article first show on www.stuff.co.nz Source link Author JAMES CROOT on date 2021-10-12 07:45:00

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