Áfram birtast lofsamlegir dómar um Volaða land Hlyns Pálmasonar í Cannes og hér er umsögn frá Elena Lazic hjá The Playlist.
As countries go, Iceland is probably one of the most fast-changing in terms of its biological make up, its intense volcanic activities reshaping its surface and contours at a speed fast enough to be perceived within a single generation. Paradoxically, it is also a place where time appears to stand still, with the sun omnipresent for half the year and absent for the rest. Hlynur Pálmason’s “Godland” is in tune with both contrasting realities, and the film’s very long takes feel extremely rich with meaning and texture even as they often show a whole lot of nothing.
These different temporalities are also embodied in the objective of Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), a Danish priest sent to Iceland to build a church there and photograph some of the people of the island. In order to firmly root a religion into a country so that it may eventually become as natural to its population as breathing, somebody first has to do very menial, physical, and not all that spiritual tasks: one person must make their way there, try not to die during the journey, and erect a building. More than belief alone, Lucas’ holy mission also demands from him punishing work.
But the young, idealistic Lucas is increasingly unsettled by the difficulty of his journey and the whims of this foreign land. In one early scene, he refuses to wait for the level of a river to go down for his whole party to cross it, a command that soon has tragic consequences. His mounting rage and arrogance recall those of the young new keeper of “The Lighthouse” from Robert Eggers’ film, but rather than originating in primal urges and trauma, Lucas’ behavior and self-questioning evolves in a much more political and historical context.
“Godland” is set in the early 19th century, at a time when Iceland was still part of Denmark, and the least interesting aspect of the film is its rather straightforward story of a failed attempt to convert a hostile foreign land. From the moment he sets foot on the island, Lucas is looked at suspiciously by his guide, Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson, star of Pálmason’s “A White White Day”), who, unbeknownst to him, sometimes insults him in Danish. But this strong man, who performs calisthenics every morning barefoot in the moss, is also everything the lanky and weak Lucas is not, and the frustrated young priest clearly does not take it well. Despite his superior’s warning to adapt to the land and its ways at the beginning of the film, the young man stubbornly resists them and rejects the advice of the people who have learned to live with them.
But this predictable downward spiral is almost surprisingly banal next to the film’s extremely rich and daring formal setup. The boxy 4:3 aspect ratio brings out the contrast between the seemingly endless landscapes of Iceland and the naturally narrower human perspective — as well as Lucas’ small-mindedness — and this clash would appear to be captured and preserved in his pictures. Using specifically prepared glass panels, the priest photographs the people he meets in their natural habitat, in front of a waterfall or riding a horse. But Pálmason is more interested in the process for taking these pictures than the end results themselves. Lucas’ subjects have to stand still for several seconds for the chemicals to do their magic, and the director shows us that extended moment of stillness each and every time: in front of his camera, during this long and arduous journey, those few seconds of motionlessness become important and eternal.
Pálmason and director of photography Maria von Hausswolff dare to adopt the same strategy with their moving pictures, and though the result can have a soporific effect, it is also exceptionally rewarding. In this simultaneously unchanging and impermanent place, this slow rhythm simply makes sense; it is hard to imagine any other way of truly looking at these unique landscapes. With ecological time (the things that happen in the moment) and evolutionary time (the changes that develop across a long time) essentially in sync, it would be foolish to rush things, as Lucas learns the hard way.