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Lamb (Preview)

Valdimar Johannsson

The striking debut film from Valdimar Jóhannsson is a gorgeously chilly fable, as much slow-burn arthouse drama as it is folk horror (Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr’s presence in the credits as executive producer is something of a tip-off). A sort of folktale for adults, perhaps the film that comes closest in tone is Ali Abassi’s 2018 film Border, but Lamb is very much its own strange beast.

"A gorgeously chilly fable..."

Noomi Rapace is captivating as Maria, a sheep farmer who lives and works amidst the misty, ancient valleys and crags of Icelandic countryside with her partner Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Gudnason). After a majestic, almost dialogue-free opening (it takes until around the fifteen minute mark before a single word is spoken by either of our lead actors) Maria and Ingvar make a startling discovery in their barn. This discovery, which we won’t spoil here, hints thrillingly in the direction of pre-Christian, pagan traditions, and the film is commendable in the way it commits whole-heartedly to its outlandish concept. While this may sound moody and dark (which it is), as in life, there is humour, and real joy, too, and part of the film’s allure is that you’re never quite sure where exactly it’s heading next.

What does follow this central discovery is an examination of grief, parenthood and relationships, and a parable about the eternal relationship between humans and our natural environment. Iceland is at its scenic best in bringing those natural environments to life; Cinematographer Eli Arenson’s slow, deliberate camera-work beautifully captures the sense of isolation our characters feel and the atmospheric setting (the real-life farm had been uninhabited for 20 years) is richly realised and completely immersive. Alongside fantastic performances from Rapace and Gudnason, credit too must go to their four-legged co-stars; Panda the sheepdog won the prestigious Palm Dog award at this year’s Cannes festival, and the performances somehow coaxed out of the film’s many, many sheep are jaw-dropping. The film also walked away from Cannes with another significant trophy; the Un Certain Regard’s Prize of Originality, a fitting award for a singular film.