The 19th century draws to an end when a young priest from Denmark sets out to explore faraway regions of Iceland. Lucas’s (Elliott Crosset Hove) goal is to gain insight into the locals’ lives, take their picture and build a church for them. He is accompanied by a guide, the gruff Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson, whom audiences may recognise from 2022’s other Nordic epos, The Northman), but since they do not speak the same language, attempts at communication are laborious. Instead of the straightforward exploration into foreign territory Lucas expected, the journey proves to be a test of faith for him instead.
The film’s title was originally made up of the Icelandic and Danish term for Godland, demonstrating the relationship between the two languages, the two nations as well as religion are the feature’s main themes. The duration of such a trip in the time period it is set in is not sugarcoated, but rather supported by the picture’s slow-moving pace that, at times, can tax the viewer’s attention span.
The forces of nature, which at first appear to be Lucas’s adversary, are captured in breathtaking visuals, despite the reduced aspect ratio of the chosen Academy format. From the very first images, the well-wrought frames play with polar opposites: the opulent meal eaten by the bishop in Lucas’s austere presence, the idea of man vs nature, and, very obviously, the Danish “conquerors” versus the native Icelanders. But as the film progresses, the yin-yang nature of these elements becomes evident: they are complementary, one cannot exist without the other.
The human interaction, the sense of society that Lucas has longed to find, is depicted in a particularly stunning tracking shot, that also reels in the wealth of nature that is part of human life. Changing seasons, or a horse’s body decaying over time are depicted in an artistic manner – moody, almost abstract to the plot at heart, but no less captivating to watch.
Godland is not only a film for anthropologists and lovers of all things Nordic; viewers braving the runtime of two hours and 23 minutes will undoubtedly find themselves in awe of this powerful piece of filmmaking.
Godland is released in UK cinemas on 7th April 2023. Read our interview with the director here.
Watch the trailer for Godland here: