Iceland’s ‘Lamb’ comes to India

A scene from ‘Lamb’

A scene from ‘Lamb’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Lamb, the Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard Prize of Originality winner and debut feature film of Valdimar Jóhannsson, is often mistaken for a horror film. But that was never his plan. “To me, it’s an arthouse film,” he was quoted saying in Variety magazine. When we meet on a video call, the Icelandic director adds that it is not a simple revenge-of-nature story either. Lamb is therefore open to different interpretations, especially on repeat viewings – a good thing then that it is available to viewers in India now, on Mubi.

Valdimar Johannsson

Valdimar Johannsson | Photo Credit: Bjarni Eiriksson

Ada in the scrapbook

For over two decades, Jóhannsson, 44, has been active in his country’s film industry in production departments and has made short films. He also spent a few years at the iconic Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr’s film school in Sarajevo. He always knew he wanted to make a film and started with a scrapbook and a collection of drawings, paintings, and photographs. As the book grew in thickness, Jóhannsson thought it had captured the “feel” of the film. Lamb centres on a childless couple in rural Iceland, Maria (Noomi Rapace, 42) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason, 53), who witness an unusual birth in their sheep barn, which brings them immense joy before destroying them. The lamb in question is a mysterious but endearing human-sheep hybrid (created with puppetry, child actors, and visual effects) named Ada. The film grew around drawings of Ada in Jóhannsson’s book.

A scene from Lamb

A scene from Lamb | Photo Credit: Lilja Jonsdottir

Into the supernatural 

Jóhannsson initially struggled to articulate the broken story he had in mind, till he was joined by Icelandic poet, novelist, and lyricist Sjón as co-writer; together, they figured out the best way to tell the story. While they exploited Sjón’s mythological expertise on Icelandic folklore, the main supernatural character(s) were their original creations. Jóhannsson says that “Icelandic myths are rooted in your blood” with stories about places, and even mountains, roads, and stones. So, Jóhannsson has treated the film’s outrageous narrative in the spirit of a real-life story. “The crew had to really believe in the story to treat it right,” he adds. Indian mythology is rich with beings and gods who are part-human, part-animal. While Iceland doesn’t exactly have the same, Jóhannsson had such visually captivating figures at the back of his mind. That and his own upbringing with sheep-farmer grandparents led to the film’s genesis.

Making a cultural connect
Jóhannsson, who has never visited India but hopes to, says he doesn’t know how audiences in India will react to this film. The film also premiered at the International Film Festival of India in Goa last November. He recalls the “amazing” impact it had in Guadalajara, Mexico. “I don’t know what it was, but maybe they are so close to their stories, their fairy tales, they felt like it was based on a real story. I’m privileged to travel to these places and talk to the audience,” he smiles. 

Animals in focus

Lamb features real animals, so it helped that the lead actors were hands-on. Swedish actor Rapace ( The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) delivered a real lamb, of course with a team of farmers and animal wranglers on stand-by, on her first day of the shoot! Most of the film’s crew grew up in the countryside and were adept at handling animals. Fortunately, even Rapace grew up on a farm, and Guðnason has horses. The animals still demanded a lot of patience as they needed to feel secure. “They’ll give you what you want in the end, but it always takes a bit more time than you expect,” Jóhannsson explains. The sheepdog from the film, Panda, posthumously won the Cannes’ Palm Dog award (celebrating dog performances on the big screen).

A scene from the film

A scene from the film | Photo Credit: LiljaJons

Dialogues to a minimum

In a time of instantly gratifying blockbuster films and streaming, Jóhannsson has made some bold creative choices with this film that went on to win Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize last year. Through the film’s austere, minimalist aesthetic, he created a world that they could completely control, down to every colour that appears on the screen. Lamb stays with the couple till the viewer becomes attuned to their daily routine. The dialogue is also sparse because Jóhannsson thinks that cinema as a visual medium doesn’t have to repeat in words everything that it shows. Naturally, his actors found it more difficult to act without dialogue. “You can’t fake it. You have to see it in their eyes, face, or body language. For me, it was the stronger way to tell the story,” he shares. 

Lamb is streaming on MUBI India

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2022 1:41:15 pm |