Don’t smile: Elliott Crosset Hove as a priest in the Danish film ‘Godland’.
GODLAND **** (143 minutes; subtitled) M
There are many stretches in the haunting, beautiful, foreboding Godland that come close to Art Movie Heaven.
Set in the 1800s and with very little conventional story to speak of, Danish priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) is instructed to go to a remote community in Iceland and supervise the construction of a church.
About half the film is taken up by the trek as Lucas traverses a long series of chilled, wind-blasted, majestic landscapes with his support team, carrying a giant, primitive camera with which he tries capture the experience on a small number of precious glass plates.
Filmed in the square Academy ratio and boasting a sound design so evocative you’ll feel the cold, writer/director Hlynur Pálmason is in no hurry, with some remarkable long shots allowing us to sink deep into the images as the isolated settings take on lives of their own.
The cinematography by Maria von Hausswolff delivers some great, slow panning shots that echo the love of landscape and human faces seen in works by Swedish titans Jan Troell (The Emigrants; The New Land) and Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, etc).
The film’s last half hour features some truly stunning images chronicling the passing of the locale’s harsh seasons against which the transience of flesh is cast in brutal relief as we learn, in some shocking moments, what the film has been about all along.
A beguiling film from first frame to last.
HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE **1/2 (104 minutes) M
A small group of extreme environmental activists plan to make their anti-oil point by disrupting a pipeline with a home-made bomb, a crusade that exacts a hefty price.
The small swirl of controversy that has blown up around the film for supposedly championing eco-terrorism doesn’t seem justified by what unfurls on screen.
Essentially, it’s a straight-up thriller with the standard structure of a heist movie; the activists, each with their own motives that are outlined in well-judged flashbacks, are clearly portrayed as a fringe group whose approach to protesting through property destruction is questioned throughout. So the film is nothing if not topical.
Unfortunately, the film is hobbled by a pretty glaring plausibility issue involving two armed security officers who appear, then inexplicably disappear without trace. The bad direction in the sequence is totally at odds with the rest of the film, and dents an otherwise tense outing.
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber, the film is based on the 2021 book by Andreas Malm, a Swedish academic and Marxist who believes in property damage as a legitimate form of eco-protesting – but don’t let that scare you.
Maybe something got lost in the translation from book to screen for if, indeed, the film’s purpose is to promote such a radical idea of protest through sabotage then it does a pretty lousy, half-baked job.
The activist characters show wildly erratic degrees of competence, some are simply idiots while their methods and motives are challenged, especially in regards to hurting innocent people who just want to work. The concept of what constitutes terrorism also gets a good going over. The presentation of the issue seems pretty balanced.
As for the scene where the gang strain to attach a large and heavy improvised bomb to an exposed pipeline, it comes off as a detailed demonstation of bad planning that verges on farce.
Also riddling the enterprise with doubt is the brutal, reciprocal logic underlying such acts of environmentally driven vandalism.
To wit: if you decree your passion for a cause as justification to commit sabotage against your perceived enemies, you automatically – and unavoidably – bestow upon your enemies the exact same license.
And they probably have just as much emnotion and a lot more resources to make their protest felt.
Just Stop Oil – Side Note: It’s not a pretty sight, and not to condone violence at all, but we see this principle in action with the unbridled manner by which traffic-blocking ‘Just Stop Oil’ protesters have been cleared from roads by angry drivers.
As unsavory as the spectacle is, it illustrates Newton’s First Law of Public Protest, wherein any force that denies right of way will be countered by an opposing force determined to enforce same.
You’ve seen the YouTube clips. Check them out again. (Go on. You know you want to.)