Lamb (2021) – film review

The ubiquitous fog obscures the harsh landscape: majestic mountains sometimes break the clouds, and vast fields stretch endlessly. From all sides comes the roar of sheep, which is many times more than the people here. This horrible and extremely natural environment in Iceland is an important element in Valdimar Johansson’s film The Lamb. The debut artist introduced them to the image of a man trying to apply his rules to nature, but nature has a constant advantage over him.

A fairy tale is born at the crossroads of savagery and humanity. A tale that must subdue fears, explain the world around them, and inform about desires and worries. Johannsson Pinocchio, ale à rebour used the theme. Here, too, appears a boy who meets the needs of parents – this time for a couple: a man and a woman, Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). In this version, the boy is also unusual – he differs from other children by causing fear and anxiety. However, Johannsson drew another line of attack, claiming that the original nature could not be changed, and that neither magic nor the power of real feeling could do so.

At first glance, the Icelandic may seem pessimistic. Maybe it’s the temperament difference that separates the dark Scandinavians from the sunny Italians? But the truth looks different. Jóhannsson hid it in an open view, eager to show his greatness and power, rising above everything and everyone. It seems that Iceland is ruled by nature, with which man can only try to live in relative harmony. There is simply no chance to fight it. Not surprisingly, it is easier to hear the roar of sheep than the screams of humans.

That is why the Icelandic Pinocchio is not born of a tree, but of half a man, half a ram. His non-human face does not stand in the way of the love that homeowners are beginning to feel for him. They take the child from its real mother – a sheep – and put it in the crib, give it a human name, and raise it as their own name. An unusual lamb seems like a miracle sent to fill a gap in their lives. This gap is symbolized by the lone cross, sometimes visited by Maria, when she manages to escape a failed circle of work on a muddy farm swept away by the wind on a nearby hill: she will decorate the cattle and plant the enemy’s land. .

The Lamb speaks of the conflict between nature and man, as well as the loss of offspring. The little lamb is a symbol of parental despair and an almost incomprehensible desire to manage great love. Jóhannsson speaks of mourning and parental instincts, using the language of a horror movie that draws a handful of local folklore. Imagination may be influenced by the most commonly used realism, which seems completely natural in this astonishing situation, but it is shocking. Fairy tales, horrors and realism consistently build up the reality on the screen, where there is room for disturbing hybrids, mad roaring sheep, human evil, as well as very ordinary subtlety.

The atmosphere of the film is complemented by unexpected humor, which looks like a human weapon against the hostile world of nature. A smile and a joke bring warmth and joy, give hope for happiness. At the same time, the answer to the strangeness of the fairy tale, which is born in the heart of the real world, can only be a joke.

About Johannsson, he can create a magnificent atmosphere – fog everywhere, high nature, the roar of animals, human screams, horror and strangeness. However, it is worse in reconciling this original atmosphere with the conventions of the story. Too often, he enters the beaten paths of genre patterns and creates tension with limited dramatic tricks. One of them even has a name – it’s Petur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), Ingvar’s brother, who visits their farm and looks at the unusual family idyll with skeptical eyes of the newcomer. From the outside, this idea is extremely important – it disrupts the normalization of horror and points to an illegal mismatch between man and nature, foretelling a kind of future destiny – but at the same time it is used very mechanically to create anxiety, as if enlightenment is associated with danger.

Thus, “Lamb” works more like a mysterious and incredibly atmospheric film about trauma, love and death than genre cinema – by its conventions it violates artistic originality. Fortunately, the melting of the sheep’s roar and desperate people really worries and moves, suffocating everything else.

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