The debut film of the Icelandic director Valdimar Johannsson “Lamb” was shown in Cannes. A young couple lives surrounded by the harsh Icelandic nature, everything goes on as usual, until one day an unusual child appears in the family. Mozenra film critic Jan Hazkevich talks about this dark fairy tale — and why “Lamb” can be called the most successful debut of Cannes.
Among the many debuts of the 74th Cannes Film Festival, The Lamb by Icelander Valdimar Johannsson is definitely the most original. He combines experimentation with ancient fairy-tale traditions (in literature and cinema), absurd fantasy — with genuine emotionality. Unfortunately, it is impossible to fully convey these emotions to readers without resorting to spoilers. So, either wait until “Lamb” becomes available to watch online on “Mozenra”, or read on at your own risk.
A sheep gave birth to an amazing mutant — half a human child, half a lamb. This creature has the body of a newborn girl and the head of a sheep, the left hand – with fingers, the right-with a hoof. Ingvar and Maria have no children — once there was a daughter, but she died. They will adopt a magical creature and name its Ada.
A gloomy fairy tale with a Nordic flavor is told by Johannsson economically and expressively, without unnecessary words and plot twists, in three chapters. It is absolutely impossible to break away from it. Inheriting other Scandinavian authors-from Lars von Trier with his “Antichrist” to Ali Abbassi with his “Border” – the Icelandic debutant director undoubtedly has his own intonation and artistic program. The shots taken by the cameraman Eli Arenson in nature without artificial lighting resemble romantic paintings or illustrations to a collection of northern myths retold for teenagers. Atmospheric humming and howling behind the scenes are the work of composer Torarinn Gudnason, arranger and brother of the famous Hildur Gudnadottir («Joker», «Chernobyl»).
The actors are restrained, as if under interrogation: this adds charm to family scenes and suspense — dramatic ones. Actually, the film is based on only three performers: this is Hilmir Snaer Gudnason (“101 Reykjavík”), known for many TV series Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson and, finally, the main star of “The Lamb” — Noomi Rapace, famous for her work with Brian de Palma, Guy Ritchie, Ridley Scott, and most importantly – the role of Lisbeth Salander in the detective novels by Stig Larsson.
At first, even the experienced viewer will be surprised by the course of events in the film, but he will quickly get his bearings. After all, a fairy tale has certain laws. In the first act of The Lamb, Ingvar and Maria will get used to an unusual child. In the second, Ingvar’s wayward brother, former rocker Petur, will come to visit them, and Ada will learn about the existence of other people besides mom and dad. In the third, there will be a denouement, which is better not to write about, let the viewer experience all the most important things himself. However, the main trump card of “Lamb” is still not a plot, but how elegantly and clearly the director and his co-author of the script, the famous poet Sion (co-author of the lyrics to the songs from “Dancing in the dark”) said so much with the help of the most economical means.
First of all, we have a wonderful film about parenthood and especially about relationships with foster children, as well as about children with special needs. About the fact that a child is always a different person than you, and about how to recognize and accept it by anyone. From this point of view, “Lamb” is a film about unconditional love, which also has its extreme forms: jealousy, rivalry of parents with each other, increased anxiety. Today, when the cinema is looking more and more closely at the phenomenon of family not by blood, but by choice (this was also mentioned by the “Shoplifters” who won at Cannes, Hirokazu Koreeda), this is an extremely relevant topic.
That in no way prevents the “Lamb” from being a picture filled with deep, but not edifying symbolism. To begin with, at least, the first scene takes place in a stable on Christmas Eve, to the hymns transmitted on the radio. Maybe Ada is not the baby Jesus, but Ingvar and Maria are not at all religious in her birth (this name was not chosen by chance!) they recognize a genuine miracle. Hence the name. The biblical layer is not the only one: there are allusions to the fairy tale of the artist and writer Muggur about the girl Dimmalimm and the enchanted swan, which everyone knows in Iceland, and Maria reads Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog” at night.
Remembering fairy tales and various variations of the Frankenstein story, to which Bulgakov’s story also belongs, it is impossible not to see the fundamental departure of the “Lamb” from tradition. For centuries, it was believed that an enchanted person, whether he is a child or an adult, must be disenchanted, returned to his human form. In Johannsson’s film, the girl Ada has the features of both a human and an animal, she is forever at the crossroads between the worlds. This borderline, at the same time touching and slightly frightening, is an excellent metaphor for Another, who will never be able to finally accept, tame, remake his ideas about the norm.
But perhaps the most important dimension of the “Lamb” — it is also the most Icelandic-is a reflection on the eternal conflict and connection of man with nature. In this country they change the trajectories of highways so as not to disturb the elves in their natural habitat. In Johannsson’s film, the landscape first acts as a picturesque scenery, but gradually becomes the central character, a source of anxiety and hope. Only he alone can satisfy the need for the miraculous, inherent in even the most inveterate skeptic.
No matter how wild and bizarre the events taking place in the film, its main effect will unite everyone: you will want to buy a ticket to Iceland for any money immediately, as soon as the restrictions associated with covid are over. In the meantime, at least watch more Icelandic movies and read festival films reviews on Mozenra.