“Lamb” brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes the surreal believable – THE VISION

The emotions that we experience as children – in particular fears – unlike other experiences made in adulthood, have the ability to deeply mark our imagination and our imagination. I remember that as a child my grandmother pushed me every day into the hen house, then shouting at me from the outside, inciting me, to catch the eggs that the hens had laid during the night. The activity was a prelude to the snack, where the yolk would be beaten together with the sugar and a few drops of coffee to make eggnog, but the terror that assailed me as soon as I crossed the wooden threshold and placed my feet on the straw far exceeded the pleasure of that promise. Moving slowly towards the corner of the brood, in fact, I already perceived the eyes of those animals becoming attentive on me and I predicted the moment in which, with a leap, they would be on me, peck me everywhere. In retrospect, I realize that part of that fear – which still stops me today in front of a hen – was due to the perception that I was carrying out a sort of abuse. I was a thief, or at least I felt like one.

Surely the memories of the childhood spent in the sheep farm of the grandparents must have been mixed with some myths of Icelandic folklore, still alive and rooted in the territory, to inspire the director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s directorial debut. Lambpresented in 2021 in the section A certain regard of the Cannes Film Festival – where he was awarded for his originality – and due to be released in Italian cinemas from today, March 31, in a sense it was inspired by a dream that Jóhannsson had as a teenager and that, as he told himself, he wrote in a diary which was found only after the making of the film by his mother. In his dream, the future director was in a field where large rams, with pronounced horns, grazed all around him. “It is a memory that I had completely removed, but more than twenty years later it unconsciously merged into one of Maria’s dreams [la protagonista del film]”.

1648877111 135 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

The Maria he speaks of (played by Noomi Rapace) is the protagonist of the film, who lives with her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) on an isolated farm surrounded by Icelandic nature. Their days spend taking care of the fields and the animals, or repairing tractor breakdowns, marked by gestures that are always the same and by conversations of circumstance. The pain of a past loss, which seems to permeate the life and thoughts of both of them, manifests itself in him with a spasmodic attention to the daily work, while in her in constant silence and in an apparent apathy. Something broke inside them, compromising their relationship. In fact, everyone tries to move forward in their own way, and their distance is perceived even in small exchanges, like when Ingvar announces that he has read that the possibility of time travel is becoming more and more concrete: if he does not want to know why by now he lives close to the present, more than the faculty of knowing the future matters to Mary the possibility of going back to the past.

1648877112 759 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

1648877113 890 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

The silence, interrupted only by brief reproaches – “I don’t know how the barn upstairs is set up, you could start with that” – is so dense that the first human voice to break it comes from a radio program, where the presenter invites us to pray and wishes Merry Christmas. It is a dimension marked by the wind that beats the earth, by the verses of an animal world that seems to be disturbed only by a divine presence. One day, in fact, the miracle happens: one of the sheep on the farm gives birth to a puppy that is not like all the others. Half sheep and half human: it has the body, legs and arm of a little girl, while the head and the other leg are those of a lamb. Ada is a new beginning. It is in her love for her that Maria and Ingvar break their distance. In the way in which the couple takes care of the little one, there is an enormous tenderness but at the same time a kind of greed towards what it symbolizes and the possibility it represents for them. In fact, they seem to have the fear – and perhaps the awareness – that their happiness can only last a short time, fearing that the future will repeat itself the same as the past, but despite this they are willing to do anything to not miss this opportunity and to recreate even only for a moment the harmony they experienced previously. How much they can take from the child to heal their past, that is enough.

1648877114 300 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

1648877115 669 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

1648877117 464 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

Although in the United States it has been described as a horror, Lamb is a dreamlike family drama, with the addition of a surreal element that extends the narrative to the themes of pain, salvation and the relationship between humanity and the environment. The unknown remains of fear – what happens outside the scene, which always keeps us on the threshold of the unexpected thanks also to a symbolism that draws on Iceland’s obscure traditions and allegorical tales – and the many unspoken words. In fact, the film proceeds almost in silence, the dialogues are sparse and do not add or take anything away from the action, which progresses exclusively through images. It is as if Jóhannsson were asking us on the one hand to accept without any hesitation that suspension pact that every narration requires and on the other hand to try to make cinema a universal language, which can be enjoyed even without understanding the language.

1648877118 493 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

1648877119 357 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

“We wanted to create something new that would give the same impression of a legend, a legend of ours,” explained the director, author of the screenplay together with Sjón, stage name of Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, an Icelandic poet who has already collaborated on some of Björk’s songs. . From legends and mythology, the film recovers the narrative dimension in which the boundary between animal and human is mixed: in the peasant traditions and in the tales of traditional folklore, animals speak, enter into communication with humans, mix with them, help them, they ask for support or become their antagonists. In Lamb the relationship between men and beasts materializes in the weight that the animals’ expressions of confusion, suspicion, anger and pain acquire on the screen. “Are […] convinced that social media and technology are our reality, but when you really get in touch with yourself you realize that we are animals too, “said Rapace, whose interpretation of Maria is so intense and precise that it shows how the character’s determination is a reflection of his own desperation. “My side and my primal instincts emerged, and I used to use words less and less and body language more and more.”

1648877120 536 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

1648877121 195 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

1648877122 592 Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

Shot in Iceland, during the last week of the lambing season, the film presents a wide variety of animal species – horses, sheep, dogs, cats – whose behaviors – thanks to the support of the numerous breeders, who have helped the director to direct them on the set – they are the only elements that make us perceive an invisible and mysterious presence on the scene. It manifests itself as a breath of wind that makes the horses go wild; a gust that slips into the stable where the sheep will give birth to Ada, and that frightens the animals we have been locked up; we see it in the fixed gaze of a cat, in the defense instinct of Ingvar’s dog towards a monstrous one who cannot be seen but perceived.

Lamb brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes

If symbolically the lamb is made to coincide in the Christian creed with the ontological category of good and innocence, in Lamb the presence of Ada and the mythological origin of the story open up to a multitude of meanings, never completely defined, but from which it emerges that negative consequences can only be expected from the transgression and exploitation of the natural order. Over the centuries, the hybridization with which the monstrous was manufactured – centaurs, sirens, harpies – was in fact often used to underline the difference between human and animal experience. Human beings have always imagined themselves as superior to animals, as God’s favorites and consequently the center of the universe, and this triad of beliefs has led to the current tragic situation. Forgetting to be ourselves animalswe ended up giving a negative connotation to all those forms of life that are not human, dismissing and condemning everything that reminds us of belonging to the kingdom of beasts. Instead, we should learn to rethink ourselves starting from what we have excluded from ourselves in order to redefine our borders. Changing our relationship with animals would have positive repercussions for everyone: on the environment, which we have consumed to the point of making it inhospitable; on individual well-being, thanks to the ability to rediscover empaths and overcome the anxieties that derive from the fear of others and from loneliness; on thinking of ourselves as one of the species and not the chosen species, to stop considering ourselves in the right to exploit others and nature as we please. All this allows us to take a much more convenient position to wait for a true miracle, which does not have to do with the divine, but with our predisposition towards what surrounds us.

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“Lamb” brings to life a contemporary Icelandic legend that makes the surreal believable – THE VISION


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