The film “Lamb,” directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson, managed to secure three nominations and an award at the Cannes Film Festival. However, the film we had the chance to watch as part of Filmekimi in our region sadly appears to have been misadvertised or intentionally misrepresented. The trailer prepared due to A24’s distribution in the United States portrayed a dark, suspenseful, and eerie atmosphere, setting certain expectations. Nevertheless, as we experienced it, the film did not align with how it was marketed. Notably, had we read any interviews with the director, Valdimar Jóhannsson, we could have observed his statement, “I have not made a horror film.”
To briefly delve into the film’s plot… Maria and Ingvar are a couple living in the vast landscapes and mountains of Iceland, making their living through farming and livestock. Their ordinary lives take a turn one afternoon when one of their sheep gives birth to a lamb with a human body, a message they interpret as something significant. They decide to adopt and raise this unique lamb as their own child.
While I may not have adored the film, I must acknowledge my fascination with the storyline. The concept of a lamb-headed creature with a human body piqued my interest, leading me to conduct a brief inquiry. It appears that the creatures in the story do not belong to any known folklore. Director Valdimar Jóhannsson harbors an interest in folk tales, as evidenced by a notebook in which he collects ideas and thoughts.
Over time, these casual conversations with a friend about the notebook’s contents evolve into a weekly routine. Weeks turn into scriptwriting, and the director transforms the stories he has preserved in his notebook over the years into a film. The only historical aspect of the film is the Dimmalimm tale, which Ingvar reads to his daughter, Ada. Dimmalimm, which shares similarities with the Frog Prince story, narrates the story of a cursed prince turned into a swan, ultimately freed by a princess.
Although the film lacks a clear central idea, it revolves around the theme of “maternal instinct.” Both the director and the lead role concur on this point. The film also highlights the notion of humans being the dominant force on Earth, focusing on a mother stealing another mother’s child. In the end, a person who perceives herself as a superpower seizes the lamb’s child, not even sparing her own daughter for her interests. In the later minutes of the film, we witness that the sole reason behind Maria’s act is her previous loss of a child.
According to research by Noomi Rapace, who portrays Maria, kidnapped children tend to have a stronger attachment to their abductors than their biological families. When Maria sees the lamb offspring in a human body, instead of questioning the impossibility and the miraculous nature of what she encounters, her “maternal instinct” takes over, and she claims the lamb as a fresh start right before her mother’s eyes.
Now, let’s delve into the critical aspect. Due to A24’s deception, we had labeled the film as a horror genre in our minds and entered the theater with that expectation. However, the film not only lacks horror but is also quite enjoyable, emotionally engaging, and even occasionally humorous. While categorizing it as a family film might be an exaggeration, the director himself asserts its essence as a family film.
Since we watch the film with preconceived expectations, it inevitably falls short. Otherwise, the film is quite enjoyable and a significantly experimental work. Director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s long years of waiting have resulted in a unique endeavor. If only the film had delivered a satisfying conclusion, it could have been a memorable masterpiece, given the crew of 35 people, some of whom are his childhood friends.
Regrettably, the film’s primary flaw, as mentioned earlier, lies in its ending. Due to our classification into the horror genre, we anticipate a climax that never materializes throughout the film. We even secretly hope for the mystery to unravel and some family members to endure hardship, if not perish. In fact, the film does provide some of the expected elements, but the way it does so is problematic. It attempts to compensate for its shortcomings with errors. There is a significant gap between the development phase and the final phase. It feels as though certain scenes were forgotten in the editing process, and we suddenly transition to the finale, which is poorly established.
In summary, “Lamb” explores the foundation of human beings considering themselves superior to everything else. It tells the story of a mother who, driven by her longing to become a mother again, believes that a being she perceives as lesser has given birth to a child and takes it, raising it as her own. The film focuses on harmony, questions the concept of family, and ultimately constructs its own folklore to conclude the narrative. The film’s marketing and, of course, the sharp transition to the ending may have caused it to miss the chance of becoming a “cult” film. Nevertheless, it’s worth a try and stands as one of the most intriguing films of recent years.
Cast & Crew
director: Valdimar Jóhannsson
writers: Valdimar Jóhannsson, Sjón
starring: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason
ICELAND – POLAND – SWEDEN | 2021 | 106 MINUTES |