“LAMB” – A Spellbinding Nordic Folktale Directed by Valdimar Johannson

With her husband Ingvar, played by Hilmir Snær Guonason in the background, Noomi Rapace as Maria raises the baby lamb as if it was her baby. Photo Courtesy of A24
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At The Movies With..
Lady Beverly Cohn Editor-at-Large Worldwide

“Mary had a little lamb,
Her fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.”

This delightful nursery rhyme that our mothers sang to us and later, when we became mothers, we repeated the familiar ditty to our children. That image eventually comes to life in LAMB, a compelling, highly theatrical but bizarre film by first-time director Valdimar Johannson, which he co-wrote with Icelandic writer, poet, and lyricist, Sjon. Drawing from ancient Nordic mythology, which encompasses around 65 different gods, the one god in
particular that this film addresses appears to be Satyr, who is half man-half goat. So, as an audience member, it is important to agree to suspend your disbelief as the story unfolds. In this case, because the film is so exquisitely
done, compliance comes quite easily.

With the baby lamb watching through the window, L-R:  Ingvar’s brother Petur, (Björn HIynur Haraldsson) tries to talk Ingvar, (Hilmir Snær Guonason) into destroying the aberrant lamb.
Photo Courtesy of A24

With cinematographer Eli Arenson’s sweeping opening shots focusing from a spooked team of wild horses stopping dead in their tracks and reversing their direction, to the barren Iceland terrain, there is already something otherworldly about what we are seeing. Maria, brilliantly characterized by Noomi Rapace, and her husband Ingvar, well played by Hilmir Snær Guonason, live in a truly isolated area in the wind-swept bleak hills of rural Iceland, seemingly far away from a neighbor or a nearby town. This childless couple ghost walks through their daily activities – polite to each other but truly lost in what appears to be profound sadness. Very little conversation is exchanged between husband and wife as they go through their daily routines. Soon we’ll understand exactly what triggered that sadness.

They are sheep farmers and are in the barn helping an ewe deliver her baby lamb on Christmas Eve. Maria pulls the baby out and on looking at it, glances at her husband and they quickly wrap the lamb in a baby blanket and whisk it off to their living quarters. The newborn, who they name Ada, sleeps in a crib and is fed a bottle by Maria, who cradles her like an infant. In the meantime, the momma ewe wants her baby returned to her and stands outside the house every night looking up at the bedroom window loudly bleating which could translate into “I want my baby back.” Having enough of this unending cajoling, Maria quickly disposes of the mother and then all is peaceful, at least for a while. In building the suspense of exactly what this lamb looks like, the director waits until well into the film to satisfy that curiosity.

Time passes and at last we see Ada who now is about seven years old. Her body, from the neck down, is human but her head is that of a lamb. She doesn’t speak but is warm, friendly, and quite loving towards her affectionate parents. She happily helps with household chores such as setting the table for meals or going into the field with her father to help with planting. Things are going along fine and Maria seems to be in a better frame of mind. The couple, who have been friendly, but somewhat estranged because of their tragedy, are once again becoming close. Just when things are going well with this happy family, along comes Ingvar’s brother Petur, nicely played by Björn HIynur Haraldsson. When he first sees Ada he is appalled and tells his brother he must kill this aberrant thing. Of course, Ingvar, being the dad, will not kill his child, so his brother takes it upon himself to do away with this creature. With a rifle in one hand, and her hand in his other, he marches into the field and takes aim at her head at which point I found myself saying, “Oh no.” But relax, he cannot do it and in the next scene, Ada is snuggled in his arms. Petur, who apparently had a fling with Maria in the past, makes a play for her and in short order, she takes him to the bus, hands him money, and away he goes. It is during this crucial time, that Ingvar walks into the field with his daughter where, from a distance, a shot is fired and dad is mortally wounded. I shall not tell you who shot him and what happens to this creature, half girl, half sheep, but I will tell you that there’s a perfect denouement that blends reality with a historic mythical figure, leaving you with questions about the morality of stealing another’s offspring, as well as questions about its intended destiny.

This provocative, unforgettable film, enhanced by composer Thorarinn Gudnason’s music and meticulous edited by Agnieszka Glinska, is probably unlike anything you’ve seen before, and will undoubtedly leave you somewhat spellbound rendering you unwilling to immediately get up out of your seat.

Distributor: A24
Release Date: Current
Where: in Select Theaters
Country: Iceland, Sweden, Poland
Language: Icelandic with English Subtitles
Genre: Supernatural Drama
Rating: Rated “R”
Running Time: 107 Minutes

Norse mythical god Satyr, half man/half goat.
Courtesy Photo

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