[Cannes 2022] “Godland” by Hlynur Palmason: the coronation of a great filmmaker of the material

With his third feature film, presented in the Un Certain Regard section, the Icelandic director brings a burst of audacity to this 75th Cannes Film Festival.

After being discovered at Cannes and warmly applauded for his two previous films (Winter Brothers and A day so white) who worked on a sense of strange but joyful cold burlesque, Godland, the new film by Hlynur Palmason, traces a path of cinema of an increased magnitude as much as it prolongs previous works. From the muted burlesque of his first two films, the Icelandic filmmaker expels the comic charge to keep only the great formal and existential quest of the genre: to grasp the failings of the body in the grip of a hostile environment.

Even before setting foot on Icelandic land, this environment is already hostile in its own way for Lucas, this young Danish priest who is entrusted with the mission of building a small church in a remote village on the island. On the boat that takes him to his mission, he tries with difficulty to decipher the long list of words with which we can designate the rain in Icelandic (the language and the impossibility of communicating will be the other major subject of the film). Then begins the long and arid journey to reach the village. Then hovers on the screen more than one breathtaking hour of cinema, navigating between the Bressonian survival and the contemplative western, counting among the most beautiful and radical that we have seen this year on the Croisette.

Organicity of the image

Unlike the two great masterpieces of auteurist survival (Gerry by Van Sant and Essential Killing of Skolimowski) which shift towards a form of abstraction, a disruption of the image-action towards the image-time, Palmason’s camera never leaves the material. This is also the great subject of his cinema: after a limestone quarry in Winter Brothersa rolling stone in A day so white, Godland films Iceland, a mineral land par excellence, like a gigantic rock, sharp and slippery.

By the extreme purity of this first part, by the organicity of the image (sublime grainy 35mm photograph by Maria von Hausswolff) which truly manages to touch the rock, the water and the earth, the Icelander asserts himself as a great materialist filmmaker. Everything here is matter (including death, filmed as a slow decomposition then disappearance of the flesh) and all phenomena result from these flows and vibrations.

This is what the filming will oppose to the spirituality of its protagonist who, soon, will not be able to resist the temptation of the flesh in the second part of the film. More expected and established, this one demonstrates that the immense talent of the director lies more in the study between being and matter rather in the internal relationships between beings. A less accomplished second movement which will not however make us forget this great gesture of cinema which alone had all the stature to take place within the official competition, and thus offer it what it lacks in part this year: audacity.

Godland by Hlynur Palmason, with Elliott Crosset Hove, Ingvar Eggert Sigurôsson and Victoria Carmen Sonne, presented in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, cinema release December 21, 2022

[Cannes 2022] “Godland” by Hlynur Palmason: the coronation of a great filmmaker of the material – Les Inrocks