Linda Cook review: Art-film buffs will appreciate Iceland’s ‘Lamb’

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What is “Lamb?”

For certain, it’s what could be called an art-house movie – strange and not for everyone’s taste.

Is it a combination of folk fable and horror? The first feature by director Valdimar Jóhannsson almost defies categorization.

The location is an isolated sheep farm in Iceland where the couple María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) live.

The two work hard to tend their crops and their sheep. It is lambing time, and we watch the couple help deliver two lambs.

One day, Maria and Ingvar go to the barn and see a sheep has, without their help, delivered … something else. Without speaking, but with an exchange of glances, the two take the baby back to their house, where they bathe it, bottle-feed it and wrap it in a blanket.

Ingvar brings in a crib from a storage shed, and that becomes the bed for the little one, who sleeps next to them.

The two beam with joy when they look at the baby. Meanwhile, the mother sheep cries piteously outside a window, with the baby crying/bleating in return.

This is not a spoiler, because it’s obvious in the movie’s trailer: The baby is anything but ordinary. Partly human, the “child” has a sheep’s head. They call her Ada, and raise her as their child.

Always, the two seem concerned that some harm might come to Ada.

When Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) arrives, he is shocked to see Ada and how the couple reacts to her.

It wouldn’t be fair to tell you more.  

The story, told with little dialogue and English subtitles, is moody and atmospheric, with gorgeous, windswept locations as a perfect backdrop what unfolds. Some scenes – one at a graveyard, for example – offer us details about the couple’s life that lead both to understanding and more questions.

I am a fan of the poet James Dickey, who wrote “The Sheep Child,” a poem that has haunted me for decades (click to read it here.)   

I can’t help but think that, somehow, somewhere, this poem influenced this film.

For those who enjoy off-kilter films such as “Enemy” and this year’s earlier and even stranger “Annette,” this is a must-see. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is Iceland’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards.

Prepare be to be disturbed, moved, and shocked … simultaneously.

4 stars

Rated: R for violence, nudity and sexual situations.

Running time: One hour and 46 minutes.

At Cinemark, Davenport.

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