GODLAND (Vanskabte Land)

(director/writer: Hlynur Pálmason; cinematographer: Maria von Hausswolff; editor: Julius Krebs Damsbo; music: Alex Zhang Hungtai; cast: Elliott Crosset Hove (Lucas), Jacob Lohmann (Carl), Ingvar Sigurðsson (Ragnar), Vic Carmen Sonne (Anna), Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir (Ida), Waage Sandø (Vincent, The bishop), Hilmar Guðjónsson (The interpreter); Runtime: 143; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Katrin Pors, Anton Máni Svansson, Eva Jakobsen, Mikkel Jersin: Maneki Films/Join Motion Pictures; 2022-Denmark/Iceland/Sweden/France-in Danish, Icelandic with English subtitles)

“Engaging spiritual fable.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“The film was inspired by seven historic photographs taken by a Danish priest, the first to document the country’s southeastern coast.”

Icelandic writer-director Hlynur Pálmason (“Winter Brothers”/”A White, White Day”) presents an engaging spiritual fable (with an ironic title) about the Protestant ethos that tells about a 19th century Danish missionary who tests his faith as he explores a remote wilderness area in Iceland in the hopes of building a church. His most valued skill is as a photographer, which will be of little value in reaching his destination. The young priest must learn how to live in such a hostile environment and with the “midnight sun” (making it a grim place to live).

Godland tells us emphatically that not all men of God are good, or even likeable (as my belief is that not all men of God are bad).

It’s strange that someone so unskilled as the Danish missionary Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) was chosen by his religious eminence to go on this difficult mission, but there we are.

The Icelandic setting makes for stunning visuals: dark volcanoes and the rough terrain– the pristine beauty of the shimmering ice. This makes the melodrama seem like an out of the world experience, a place you might expect to feel abandoned by God. The self-centered missionary tries to see if he’s fit to find his religious inner being and thereby be fit to serve God in such an inhuman environment. On the way, Lucas arrogantly ignores the safer travel plans of his trusty Icelandic guide (Hilmar Guðjónsson) in favor of following his need to get his scenic photographs.

When finally reaching the northern outpost in a death-like condition, his Danish host Carl (Jacob Hauberg Lohmann), and two daughters, the eldest Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and the younger Ida (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, the director’s daughter), warmly welcome the loner despite the host saying to his daughters privately: “We don’t need men like him,” as the girls try to reach him by making him feel human again. Carl has little regard for the foolish priest, saying he could have avoided the arduous trek by taking a boat.

It’s pointed out the misguided attempt by Lucas to experience the country backfired, as he soon regretted experiencing how hostile was the terrain .

It’s a grim film about man’s toxicity and vanity, how the controlling Danes treat the native population with contempt (especially over the language barrier, where the Danes expect everyone in the country to speak Danish) and how religion doesn’t have the answers if it doesn’t acknowledge there are other beliefs and ways to live.

The Lutheran bishop’s advice is that for the mission to succeed, the church must adapt to the locals and their customs.

After WW2 Iceland became independent of Denmark.

Played at the Cannes Film Festival


REVIEWED ON 6/15/2022  GRADE: A-