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MOVIES (LFF 2022): Godland - Review

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A fight against the elements themselves rife with black humour beneath its dark surface and an ode to the harsh beauty of Iceland. Uncompromisingly brilliant and completely breath-taking - sometimes the best films of the London Film Festival emerge from places you don't expect but that's very much not the case here, everything about Godland worked for me and I bought it hook line and sinker - a Coen Brothers-influenced approach to a journey of survival with an unexpectedly funny bent to it that typifies the black humour of it all - whilst not betraying its deeper themes. Even though I've seen many films at this festival over a few days, it stands above them - this film is a rich, raw masterpiece that stays with you every passing day. Silence is the easy comparison to make here but this film is so much more than a Scorsese homage drawing from real life photographs in the 19th century to create an elemental conflict rife with unease and tension.

The plot is straightforwardly simple; a Danish Priest is tasked with building a Church in Iceland before winter and takes a journey across the island to do so. It's impossibly bleak for the journey and faith is tested along the way - to describe the plot like this undersells it as if you're familiar with the director's body of work you'll know he's one of the most exciting new European directors on the scene right now. The Bresson influences are everywhere in Hlynur Pálmason's follow up to the perfect It's a White, White Day. The film showcases the rugged harsh and desolate wasteland of Iceland acting as a tourist guide to Iceland; set against a backdrop of a question of faith and morality tale. Each passing moment introduces characters who wouldn't look out of place in The Terror or perhaps more accurately The North Water, and the film has an appropriately haunting vibe to match - the journey is long, the journey is perilous, and the characters are befitting of its world.

Religion's role in colonialism has been something long documented and Godland's deaths being a harsh victim of religious arrogance and nothing more, the sense of conquering the unconquerable when an easier path could have been avoided showcases the duality of man. Cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff creates some visually striking images to supplement the script from writer-director Pálmason, and the film is entirely crafted as one to watch. Its characters are complex and rife with moral ambiguity, much of the black humour comes from Ingvar Sigurdsson's imposing Ragnar, who looks like a giant of a man opposite Lucas, Elliott Crosset Hove's fresh-cut priest. Ragnar is a man of the land - more world-weary than Lucas will ever be, and the clash of personalities provide for an entertaining drama rife with intrigue - there's enough here to lean into the mystique of it all and the film does that superbly.

Atmosphericly brilliant in tone and grand overt gestures, Godland is an accomplished masterwork and without a doubt one of the best of the year.

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