Hlynur Pálmason • Director of Godland
“My main actor lost twelve kilos, I think, and really took it seriously - I was so happy to see his physical decay”
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2022: The Icelandic director, who lived in Denmark, brings together some conflicting energies of both countries, through a Danish vicar setting up a parish in Iceland in the 19th century
Godland [+see also:
interview: Hlynur Pálmason
film profile], the third fiction feature by Hlynur Pálmason, is entered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival. Here, the Icelandic director who went to the Danish film school and lived in Denmark for several years, brings together some conflicting energies of both countries, as we follow a Danish vicar in the mid-19th century, setting up a parish in the barren lands of Iceland, at the time under Danish rule.
Cineuropa: We’re told in the opening that seven photographs taken by a Danish vicar inspired the film. Can you elaborate on this find?
Hlynur Pálmason: I told my crew and cast and also my financiers about this find very early on, but it’s actually a piece of fiction that I came up with when I was writing in order to stimulate my senses. For a long time, it wasn’t going to be mentioned in the film at all, but I felt in the end that if I had been inspired by them, the viewer should know about them too. And now we actually have them – we made them, with the wet-plate collision process, authentically, like they would have been made back then. We’ve only presented one so far, which is the poster. Later, we will reveal the rest, one at a time.
Godland deals with a world between two countries – Denmark and Iceland – and the opposing forces, represented by Lucas, the Danish clergyman, and Ragnar, the Icelandic guide. What’s your own description of the two and your feelings about them?
I actually like them both very much. Lucas, who I connect a lot to whether I like it or not, is the idealist, a modern man, and Ragnar is the opposite, a man of nature, of weather and almost of the ground. Along the journey though, Lucas’ layers are gradually peeled away, almost completely drained by this foreign land. Ragnar is kind of a mystery, a storyteller and a raw poet who might have done some dark things that he hasn’t dealt with and is now looking for some salvation, but also is afraid of God.
Have we met characters like this before, in a John Ford western perhaps?
Several people have talked about this these last few days, even named John Ford, also Kurosawa, and stories where the places are important, almost a character in the film. I was brought up with these films, so I’m sure it shaped me, and I totally get the connection. I’ve always written characters by sort of portraying their interior by explaining the exterior – the world around them.
Looking at the film and envisioning the actual shoot, it looks like a hard journey also behind the camera. Was it?
The funny thing is that it’s shot around my actual home area, on the southeast coast of Iceland, so it’s very personal. Very vast area, very isolated. We were not a big crew and didn’t have a lot of money, but we really used what we had, and we dragged the shooting out over a long period instead of having a big crew over a short period. The plan was to shoot chronologically and I’m so happy it worked out. Physically, it was hard – Elliott Crosset Hove (who played Lucas) lost twelve kilos, I think, and really took it seriously. I was so happy to see his physical decay. The shoot went on for two years.
You show these vast and isolated Icelandic landscapes in one long scene, put to music that’s one of the most famous Danish national hymns “I Danmark er jeg født”/”In Denmark I am born, it’s where I’m home”, a rather ironic combination. What were your thoughts here?
It’s a beautiful hymn, with a lyric by HC Andersen. In the whole film, we play with opposites. The Danish title is written in red, the Icelandic in blue. I want to treat both countries equally fair. I adore Denmark, I studied there, my children grew up there, many of my collaborators are Danish. But sometimes I think it’s important to have hard discussions. The film walks a thin line.
We do meet a person where both worlds blend beautifully, the young girl Ida, played by your own daughter Ida, who can switch from Danish to Icelandic literally at the turn of a hand.
Exactly. Perhaps she has the good qualities of both Denmark and Iceland? A symbol for open borders. I hope for more of the same.
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