The Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Un Certain Regard-winning debut Lamb, showing in this round of the Panorama of the European Film as part of the Uncanny on Screen section, is based on an Icelandic folktale.
It follows the life of a couple, Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) living in the Icelandic countryside with a cat and a dog in what appears to be an isolated area where they have a sheep farm, breeding sheep for the wool and living with their hands.
A quiet, childless couple, often tired, their monotonous life is interrupted when one of their sheep gives birth to a half-human creature. Killing the mother, Maria takes the hybrid creature home, puts it into a cot treats it as her child, naming it Ada after a daughter she and Ingvar had lost.
Suddenly, Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) – who appears to have an amorous connection with his sister-in-law – arrives unannounced, and is so shocked by Ada he decides to kill her – only to end up accepting and treating her in an avuncular way.
Here as elsewhere in the landscape shots the influence of Jóhannsson’s mentor the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, also this film’s executive producer, is evident. But, while it deeply probes questions of parenthood and difference, the film has a rather baffling ending when a grown-up human-sheep hybrid arrives to kill Ingvar and take Ada.
In the Emerging Directors section is the Maltese film Luzzu, the American writer and filmmaker Alex Camilleri’s debut which won the the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Camilleri directed three short films; the first was Elli and the Astronaut (2009), and the second, a documentary, was Still Here (2010); he also made Prickly Pear (2017).
Luzzu is the name of traditional Maltese fishermen’s boats – usually a small, brightly coloured vessel with eye-like spots on the bow – and it depicts the way of life of traditional fishermen, showing how they are increasingly driven our of business by EU restrictions on fishing practices and the brutality and corruption of capitalism.
The film was nominated for the Golden Athena at the Athens International Film Festival, the Antigone d’Or at the Montpellier International Film Festival and the Bronze Horse at Stockholm Film Festival. It won the Special Jury Diploma at the Molodist International Film Festival.
Luzzu follows the real-life character Jesmark, whose role is a modified version of his daily life, revolving around the boat and the fishing trade, which has run in his family for generations.
Jesmark and his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) have two problems: their boat needs repairs, and their newborn child requires expensive medical care to grow properly. Jesmark is torn between continuing to fight a losing battle or handing in his boat in return for a sum of money.
Benefiting from powerful cinematography by Léo Lefèvre, the film captures the culture and atmosphere of the island, with the fishermen mending their nets and a priest sailing from one boat to another to bless them. Towards the end of the film, Jesmark is tries to sell his fish at the market only to discover that a large fish he himself had released back into the water because it wasn’t the legal season for fishing it was being sold there.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly