Look to Bresson and Dreyer but also to Il petroliere this powerful meditation on the conflict between nature and civilization which confirms the talent of the filmmaker, here in the third film.
Heart of Darkness. There is a lot of Conrad in Hlynur Pálmason’s third film and a lot of meditation on the conflict between nature and civilization. After the convincing Winter Brothers (2017) e A White, White Day (2019), the third film is an autobiography on the director’s dual Danish/Icelandic nature. The journey of the Danish Lutheran priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove, already the protagonist of Pàlmason’s first film) in the inaccessible territories of Iceland around 1870, recalls the ascent of the river by the European Charles Marlow in search of the mysterious Kurtz. Iceland would be the country to be civilized but it is clear that problems of language, of different religions, of opposite cultural backgrounds and the inaccessible nature of the places are insurmountable obstacles. To emphasize this socio-cultural contrast, Hlynur Pálmason sets two antagonists to the priest Lucas: one is the Icelandic guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson, the unforgettable protagonist of A White, White Day) who uses the language barrier to openly express his hostility and the other is the Danish landowner Carl (Jacob Lohmann) who sees the family balance threatened with his two daughters Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and Ida (Ida Mekkin Hylnsdottir , daughter of the director).
If in the first part it is the weather conditions and natural events (the extreme cold, the difficulty of fording the river and climbing the rocks, a spectacular volcanic eruption) that characterize Father Lucas’ Odyssey, in the second it is the conflicts with the people of the place to dramatically precipitate events. Hlynur Pálmason looks more to Bresson and Dreyer proposing a Lutheran God who becomes “devouring fire” to the point of driving madness. Wounded physically, forced by the wild nature of the places to put aside his passion for photography and reading, Lucas slowly transforms into a psychopath stuck in his own obsessions, in a path very close to that of Daniel Plainview in The oilman by Paul Thomas Anderson. Pálmason uses the 4:3 format and 35 mm shots to create this open-air trap effect: Lucas finds himself without moral reference points and the close-ups reveal a perennial conflict between his own aspirations and the harshness of reality. Nature inexorably takes its course and the time lapse on the corpse of a horse shows the incessant passage of time. In a scene that calls Hell challenge and The gates of heaven the camera rotates 360 degrees showing the different characters dancing inside the church under construction. Pálmason goes even deeper and underlines the impossibility of photography to stop the “terrible beauty” of Nature which remains fundamentally ungovernable (Volaoa Land in Icelandic translates as “malformed land”). In this unequal struggle the human heart of darkness emerges with all its load of violence and cruelty.
Photographed by Maria von Hausswolff which brings out the wonder of the Icelandic landscapes, commented by the minimalist music by Alex Zhang Hungtai which marks the time like a sentence, Godland. In the land of God it is a film about the irreconcilability between the instinctual and intellectual worlds and about the failure of a journey of faith within a wild microcosm. Faced with such terrible beauty, all that remains is to bow your head and put down your photographic lens. Horror is a feeling that comes from the impossibility of controlling objective reality that turns into chaos. Dust to dust, the earth is wet with the tears of a little girl, sermons in the churches are interrupted by the incessant barking of a dog while a wooden cross is carried away by the currents of the river. There Will Be Blood.
Original title: Vanskabte land
Director: Hlynur Pálmason
Performers: Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson, Fridrik Fridriksson, Ísar Svan Gautason, Elliott Crosset Hove, Vic Carmen Sonne, Jacob Lohmann, Hilmar Gudjónsson, Ida Mekkin Hylnsdottir
Distribution: Movies Inspired
Origin: Denmark, Iceland, France, Sweden, 2022
The evaluation of the film of Sentieri Selvaggi