There are few forces that are comparable to colonialism for its limitless capacity for destruction, but Mother Nature certainly comes close. Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason’s (A White, White Day) epic poses the question: who’d blink first in a coming together of the two? If Godland’s languid pacing has anything to do with it, it will probably be you.
This 19th century tale of faith and frostbite sees fresh-faced Danish priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) tasked with building a church in neighbouring Iceland before the arrival of an unforgiving winter. Despite the scale of the mission, he is given very little guidance from his superior, beyond learning the language and immersing himself in the local customs. His refusal to do either offers an eye-opening insight into the tensions between the Scandinavian nations.
The stubborn priest’s outsider status quickly garners him the endearing nickname of ‘Danish devil’ from a congregation of Icelandic farmhands. That dynamic is distilled in Lucas’s mutually disdainful relationship with his hired chaperone Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson). Worn down by the snowy abyss, the churchman’s unchristlike qualities slowly come to the fore, culminating in a brutal final act.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more immersive Winter Wonderland experience
You’d be hard pressed to find a more immersive Winter Wonderland experience than Godland. Cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff’s mastery of scale renders human activity insignificant in comparison with the might of the Icelandic outbacks; capturing everything from towering glaciers to what may be the most painterly shot of horse dung ever committed to film.
Godland is every bit as striking and otherworldly as you would expect a story inspired by a collection of long-lost wet plate photographs to be. It’s tailor-made for those who enjoy sitting by the window and watching the snow fall, but less so for those who can’t wait for the grit van to come and melt it all away.
In UK cinemas and streaming on Curzon Home Cinema now.