In the late 19th century, Iceland was but a remote territory of Denmark, the cold, windswept countryside home to only a few hearty souls striving to make a go at life. Into this environment, young Danish priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) is sent by his superiors to establish a church in a small village. The majority of people in Iceland only speak Icelandic, a language Lucas has almost no knowledge of, and so a translator (Hilmar Guðjónsson) is sent with him.
The voyage there is rough, but largely uneventful, with Lucas passing the time taking photographs of the ship’s crew, a process that was still slow and laborious. Once ashore, he and his translator meet up with Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), who will serve as their guide, despite his apparent dislike of Danes. The journey on horseback across Iceland’s unforgiving terrain begins to take a serious toll on Lucas’ mental state, which is only exacerbated when tragedy befalls the group. The remaining members do finally reach the village, where construction of the church is already underway, and are taken in by a man named Carl (Jacob Lohmann) and his daughters, Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and Ida (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir). But Lucas’ instability combined with his inherent blend of naïveté and arrogance ensure that his trials are far from over.
While the island of Iceland can be a brutal environment that most would find arduous to traverse or settle, it’s also filled with striking natural beauty, which is ably captured by cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff. Writer / director Hlynur Pálmason’s story moves at a perhaps appropriately glacial pace, but is compelling enough to maintain interest, though some viewers will find their minds wandering during a few especially overlong stretches. This is a languid, bleak, and haunting film, with much to say about the very nature of man. It won’t be for everyone, but patient viewers will be well-rewarded. ★★★★
not rated. contains violence, graphic content, nudity, sexual references, brief language, and smoking.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor