‘Lamb’: Challenging circumstances flock to this intriguing Icelandic character study

“Lamb” – Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) are committed. 

They are committed to each other and their chosen vocation.  This husband and wife are sheep farmers with a barn full of the said fuzzy, adorable animals, and Maria and Ingvar nestled themselves in an Icelandic valley.  This place might be 5,000 km from the North Pole, but it seems closer to heaven.  Their homestead sits by itself with zero neighbors in sight, and if you sent out scouts to run marathons in every direction, they wouldn’t stumble into a human being, let alone a competing farm.

My father would’ve called this locale God’s country.  Then again, he never traveled to Iceland.  He may have named this otherworldly beauty an alien planet, as granite buttes and peaks are coated with greens, and pea-soup fog drifts in between.

Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) and Maria (Noomi Rapace)

Director/co-writer Valdimar Johannsson’s “Lamb” is almost set as a western, as this couple planted roots on wide-open spaces.  They are strong-willed, capable pioneers but – no question – are alone and vulnerable.  Still, they aren’t as helpless as their sheep, and during the opening act, Johannsson spends worthwhile minutes filming multiple lambs’ births while Maria and Ingvar shepherd the small miracles. 

These precious moments engender warm smiles from this husband and wife, and any animal lovers in the audience, including this critic.

Rapace and Gudnason were present for these lambs’ introductions into the world, as the filmmakers didn’t hire a special effects crew for the births.

“I had to run down to the farmhouse and basically put my hands inside of a sheep and pull out a baby lamb.  Amazing.  I saw life begin and this amazing beautiful creature (stood) up for the first time and started drinking after two or three minutes.  The appetite for life was just so pure and so powerful,” Rapace says in a July 13, 2021 interview with France 24.   

Johannsson and his co-screenwriter Sjon effectively establish a sturdy moral ambiance here, but risks are also afoot.  Wild animals could arrive at their unlocked front door anytime, day or night. 

Although if you Google “Iceland’s native animals”, some of the results are arctic fox, reindeer, and puffins, and hey, they don’t seem all that menacing.  Still, the opening scene implies that danger could be lurking.

At first, “Lamb” seems like a straightforward story.  This pleasant pair lives off the land, but a future event and then an individual (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) will enter conflict into their universe.  The former careens the film into a mind-bending turn, which jolts the senses.  This pseudo-Nordic western’s setting does not change, but the genre does.  With one striking reveal (that will not be discussed in this review), “Lamb” – in an instant – becomes a science fiction movie or a bizarre genre cousin steeped in folklore. 

Indeed, Johannsson’s film suddenly becomes immensely challenging for Ingvar, Maria, and us.  While we adjust to a drastically peculiar spin in this cinematic yarn, this couple lives with this twist on-screen.

Granted, “Lamb” presents an awfully high philosophical hurdle – as tall as a nearby mountain peak – to leap over, but doing so will offer rewards.  The picture is a profound character study about acceptance and unconditional love.  The screenplay introduces a polarizing element into the leads’ lives, and the question is:  Will it pull them apart or together?

Maria and Ingvar

In the documentary “The Biggest Little Farm” (2018), John and Molly Chester dropped their 9-to-5 jobs and started an organic farm in Southern California.  Their unbreakable dedication to their agricultural endeavor and – more importantly – to each other acts as an altruistic model for just about any couple out there.  Certainly, all newlyweds aren’t required to begin farming projects, but lighting and holding a supportive, loving loyalty to one another is a key lesson from the doc. 

In “Lamb”, and from the get-go, Rapace and Gudnason introduce warmth and dedication to their characters.  So, we believe that Maria and Ingvar already know the aforementioned lesson and then hope that the pair uphold it throughout the leisurely-paced 106-minute runtime.  It’s the movie’s emotional core. 

Due to the peculiar event, it’s impossible – at least in this universe – for “Lamb” to be a documentary, but that doesn’t mean that the film’s sentiment isn’t genuine.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Directed by: Valdimar Johannsson

Written by: Valdimar Johannsson and Sjon

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snaer Gudnason, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson

Rated: R

Runtime: 106 minutes

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