In the hinterland of Iceland, a married couple is in mourning. Some time ago they lost a child. It created a noticeable break in their relationship, even though they continue to spend every moment together at the ranch. They are shepherds, and in this remote landscape all they have is each other. Each other and the sheep.
A little patience does a lot of good Lamb, the first feature film by Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson. You know something is wrong from the first minute, but it takes time to develop. Using mostly static frames and rigorous compositions, Jóhannsson and cinematographer Eli Arenson disarm while Þórarinn Guðnason’s score provides the grim drone of fate marching towards Maria (Noomi Rapace), Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) and the newest member of the flock, a little lamb named Ada.
How Ada comes to Maria and Ingvar is a story best left Lamb. But Ada comes to bridge the gap between Maria and Ingvar. When Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) sees what is going on, he asks himself a question: what is it? Happiness, replies Ingvar.
How Pétur lands on the ranch is another mystery best left to the movie. Lamb has many. It is not wrong to say that the great Whatsit at the heart of Lamb is supernatural, but that is not correct either. It may be primitive. At the start of the film, Ingvar reads in the newspaper that time travel has been discovered. No one has done it yet, but they figured out how to do it. Noodles on it when you get home Lamb.
The marriage and the distance between the two make a great drama in horror and horror in great dramas. Lamb is somewhere in between, a slow burner of domestic divide and doubling up with a tickle of the supernatural. Possession, recently restored and headed to theaters next week, takes it all and cranks it up to 11.
Possession also revolves around a lost child, this time a miscarriage in the Berlin underground with Anna (Isabelle Adjani), giving one of the craziest performances in all of cinema. Her husband, Mark (Sam Neill), is a spy, and while he was away, Anna had an affair with the bon vivant German Heinrich (Heinz Béat). And he may not be the only one. There is something about Anna’s demeanor that seems a little offbeat. Then a lot of rest. Then get the dodge camp.
You can probably guess it with a title like Possession, Something is happening. I wouldn’t think of giving it away. It’s no wonder that critics and programmers alike moved away from the film and governments tried to censor it. What a small audience found Possession in the early 1980s saw a slaughtered version that made much less sense than Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski had anticipated.
Corn Possession is magnificent: it is a film of total conviction and little consideration for anything other than the emotions it tries to convey. Zulawski set its story in Berlin, giving an already lavish break-up film a dramatic visual metaphor of the Berlin Wall weaving its way through an aging, soot-drenched city. Bruno Nuytten’s cinematography is so anarchic, so visceral, that one feels crazy just watching it.
Nothing in Possession looks inviting. same for me Lamb: With a deep valley bottom surrounded by craggy peaks, little here is bucolic. They are not love songs but lamentations between evenings broken in a world to the lost eyes. They will do a hell of a double function if you have the courage. Welcome to the season of horrors.
On the bill: Lamb opens October 8 in theaters. The new 4K restoration of Possession is available now through the Metrograph Virtual Theater (metrograph.com) and hits theaters October 15.