‘Godland’: The Deadly Sins of Pastor Lucas


the icelandic Hlynur Pálmason has known how to go further in his filmography, which began to stand out with the chilling ‘Winter Brothers’, which could well be a reinterpretation of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. He continued with ‘A white, white day’, in which he narrated the complex mourning of a retired policeman who discovered that his wife had been unfaithful to him before she died. With a career on the rise, his next bet is the ambitious ‘Godland’, screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival.


And it is ambitious because Pálmason, who also signs the script, He chooses to shoot in 1.33:1, thus seeking to resemble the first cameras, as it was set at the end of the 19th century, when Iceland was still the territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. A concept with which the filmmaker himself warns at the beginning of the credits as a prologue, in which announces that the film is inspired by photographs found in a box in Iceland and that they were taken by a Danish preacher.

These snapshots, taken on wet plates, are also a fiction created by the filmmaker, but they induce the public to arouse the curiosity of how those lost memories, their history, came to be. In a similar way to what Kelly Richardt did in the fabulous ‘First Cow’, in which some skeletal remains appeared and the film went back to the time to narrate whose bones those were. With interest aroused, Pálmason set up a proposal in which he creates an authentic descent into hell for its protagonist, Lucas, a Lutheran pastor whose mission is to be the preacher of a town that is in the most remote areas of Iceland.

The dehumanization of the man of faith

The pastor begins his mission with Christian integrity. However, The young man will be devoured by pride, a cardinal sin for which he will end up paying in a fascinating existential transformation. Pálmason shows the loss of faith of the religious, how not listening to the advice of the villagers of the area who accompany him on his journey causes the trip to the town to be excessively bumpy, to the point of causing the death of his interpreter, since Lucas doesn’t speak Icelandic.


Frontally, Pálmason suddenly cuts off the only connection of understanding between the Lutheran pastor and the native population, whom he does not appreciate very much, especially in the case of Ragnar, a fifty-year-old who knows more from his own experience and who he has a visceral aversion. In that way, Pálmason highlights a priest whose faith is fading in favor of a proud, despotic and arrogant character, especially with the Icelandic populationsince the deal he has with the Danish colonists turns out to be somewhat better.

Pálmason seems to have been inspired by the magisterial ‘Diary of a rural priest’ by Robert Bresson regarding the deep crisis of faith experienced by the protagonist, a young Lutheran pastor, as well as his tendency to act deliberately and rashly. However, the filmmaker seeks to encompass other realities with this behavior. It is not trivial that he has set the story at the end of the 19th century in colonial Iceland. In fact, it reflects the lack of understanding between settlers and natives and how the preacher, who comes from metropolitan Denmark, considers himself superior to the natives, this being his downfall (as well highlighted by choosing a rough route instead of reaching the town by sea).


There’s the background, with which Pálmason tells a fable about the fall from grace of a preacher’s idealism. Subtly, he knows how to separate faith from the acts of his representative, such as the fact that the construction of the temple is being carried out by the citizens themselves or that Ragnar, the man for whom he feels a special aversion, has a religious vocation. Hence, it is a more complex work than it appears.

Pálmason establishes himself as one of the most fascinating filmmakers of current Nordic cinema

And that is where a key factor plays its technical section, which knows how to convey that strange sensation of almost documentary reality (once again, the inspiration in Bresson) with an atmosphere of parable that brings this proposal closer to the postcolonial gaze that the Argentine Lisandro Alonso in the fascinating ‘Jauja’, in which he narrated in the same 4:3 format the odyssey of a Danish settler in Patagonia with his daughter. Here, Big applause to Maria von Hausswolff, director of photography of ‘Godland’who knows how to capture that mix between documentary nature and magical realism.


This is seen especially in its first part, with the second more focused on sparse and austere dialogues, in which the cultural clashes present in the first act are more clearly reflected. In his second part, Pálmason seems to be inspired by the western, with elements typical of the genre, which show a masterful management of timewhich elevate him as one of the most fascinating Nordic filmmakers in the current European industry.

Mention for its leading actors, Elliott Crosset Hove and Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson. Both had already worked with Pálmason (Hoven in ‘Winter Brothers’ and Sigurðsson in ‘A white, white day’). Although the Icelander, one of the most famous faces in the island country’s cinema, is magnificent; it is Hove who has his opportunity to dazzle, with one of his best roles on the big screendespite having stood out in ‘Parents’ or ‘Wildland’.

With each element taken care of in detail, ‘Godland’ becomes the first major masterpiece by a director who already aspires to be one of the most interesting on the current Scandinavian scene. A feature film that shows how after the fall of one’s own values, there is a risk of falling into a dangerous personal anarchy that can lead to a tragic spiral and in which, in addition, an exercise of historical perspective is made on Denmark’s colonial attitude . As I said, fascinating.


The best: Its masterful photography and its leading actors.

Worst: Its second part isn’t quite as round as the first, though it’s still remarkable.

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