Godland12¦ Blu-ray, DVD
Priests are very keen on spreading the word of their god. So much so that throughout history they have sent missionaries to all corners of the globe, in what is essentially a glorified recruitment drive. Because as everyone knows, God loves a follower.
Following up on his impressive A White, White Day, Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason’s latest finds a missionary with a pretty daunting task on his hands.
It’s the end of the 19th century and Danish priest Lucas (Elliot Crosset Hove) has been charged with taking the word of God to quite an inhospitable land – Iceland. Once there, he is to build a church for the small Danish community that have settled there.
Although warned about what awaits him, Lucas still isn’t quite prepared for the harsh realities that come with this new foreign place, from its landscapes to its people. It’s a journey that will see him not only challenging his faith, but also who he is as a man.
Pálmason once again uses the highly dramatic background of his home country, but this time in a period piece.
Visually it’s striking, with the brutal, unforgiving landscapes doing much of the heavy lifting. The director emphasises this more by changing the ration of the screen, shrinking it down to almost a square. This is a little gimmicky for our tastes, like someone finding a retro filter on their Instagram account for the first time; but at least there’s a little method to his madness, as Lucas is also a keen photographer, who is also schlepping all his photography equipment on the trip too, and documenting his encounters. The film is also based on real photos that were discovered, of a Danish priest’s travels in Iceland at the time.
It is a film dominated by the locale, as it plays such a large part in the expedition as a whole. And Pálmason certainly plays up to it, and why wouldn’t he with an extraordinary playground such as his.
And even though it’s nearly two and a half hours long, it rarely feels like it, on what feels like an epic period travelogue.
There’s a chilliness to the characters too, who don’t exactly feel like opening up about their emotions every five minutes, which of course then breeds a fair amount of tension just bubbling close to the surface. This means that all the performances are on the reserved side, deliberately so, maintaining that sense of keeping the audience very much in the cold.
It’s abrasive and striking, using a visual palette like no other, reinforcing the Icelandic director’s position as one with a truly unique vision.