‘Lamb’ and the ‘miracle’ of Icelandic cinema

The government of Iceland promotes the sector as an economic diversification strategy

The land of the volcanoes and the cold also appears on our screens more and more through quality films and series, very personal, and with a seal of cultural identity that has managed to unite the interest of critics and the public.

The Sitges festival has been the last stop on this peculiar path to success that leads Lamb, the winning Icelandic film in the competition with the award for the best film and the jury’s recognition of the revelation director, Valdimar Jóhansson. This proposal of folk horror has made its way among the critics wherever it has competed, with mentions at Cannes and the European Film Awards, it will soon pass the box office examination, but it has already traveled the most difficult path, the one that puts it in the point of view despite belonging to the cinematography of a country of 370,000 souls.

Lamb, starring Noomi Rapace, also a winner in the track record, portrays a rural drama with a surreal tinge that elevates the originality of the filmic bet. After the script, the most prestigious writer in the country, Sjón, and very versatile: to his novels, poems and scripts he also adds his experience as a composer and lyricist for Bjork on several albums, the last Biofilia. Iceland has selected her as a candidate for the Oscar nominations.

The Icelandic phenomenon is not a fluke. The talent that has emerged on the international scene comes from the sector’s promotion policies promoted by a 2003 law, which stipulates aid for the production of cinematographic, television and documentary fiction and which resulted in the reconversion of the old Icelandic Film Fund, operating since 1979, at the successful Icelandic Film Center. This body, chaired by the country’s Minister of Culture, ensures international projection in festivals and audiovisual markets while being involved in promoting internal business and the preservation of Icelandic values.

Their four-year plans guarantee them a roadmap adapted to the reality of the sector: in the plan closed in 2019 they launched a solid commitment to the promotion of women in key positions in the industry, for example. Between 2014 and 2018 the government invested 66.5 million euros in the plan and obtained 99.8 million in export earnings from film and television.

Identity and reputation

The 2020 plan launched the ten-year challenge after seeing its successful balance of the previous decade, and the foundations of the Icelandic miracle are born from the need to diversify their economic sectors taking advantage of the potential they have: creativity, unique natural landscape, and a strong commitment to their culture. In its program, the Icelandic government intends to develop more academic audiovisual training, taking advantage of the the weight of the industry tripled between 2010 and 2020. «Culture, language, identity, economy and international reputation », points out the Icelandic plan as pillars of the bet for the future to consolidate the work done.

And is that Lamb It is the latest production to make its way into the international forum, but others have preceded it in recent times. A white, white day Directed by Hlynur Palmason, it dazzled with its thriller-like account of the trance experienced by a recent widower upon discovering a secret from his past. The Icelandic environment, with a unique landscape and light, is transformed in the filmography of the country into one more instrument to carve scenes and characters. On A white, white day the symbiosis is perfect.

Another exponent of emerging Icelandic cinema is its peculiar humor, harsh and surreal in the vein of Nordic cinema. On good neighbours, the dispute between two families over the shadow caused by the branches of a tree and that is the axis of the plot leads the viewer from the smile to the restlessness in a story that captivates by its depth.

Good neighbours, Directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, it was recognized at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for the Oscar in 2019.

‘The woman of the mountain’

The film that, however, has most gathered the support of critics and viewers of this latest film batch has been The mountain woman. Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson and starring a splendid Halldóra Geirhardsdóttir, the story tells in comedy the fight that a farmer maintains against economic interests that damage her way of life and the environment and that she portrays as a powerful mafia. It is a new edition of David vs. Goliath, with the environment at the center, but the scathing criticism is not undermined by the comic tone of the staging.

The film, by itself, was placed on international movie theaters, and that it reached the movie theaters in a pandemic. Her time at the Seville and Valladolid festivals was highly celebrated, and the protagonist was nominated for the European Film Award and represented Iceland at the Oscars.

Other critically successful Icelandic experiences such as RamsGrímur Hákonarson’s 2015 film that focuses on the story of two brothers who don’t speak to each other in a valley plagued by a deadly cattle epidemic, had an automatic response in the form of an Australian remake starring Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson. of the cast in 2020. Rams was recognized with La Espiga de Oro at the Valladolid Festival and was recognized at Cannes.


The commitment to diversify the audiovisual sector promoted by the Icelandic Film Center also has a lot to do with the fact that at the moment three Icelandic series hold the type among the offer of television platforms as competitive as Netflix.

Caught up, which already had its journey with its first installment in Movistar +, has two seasons and its protagonist, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, is already leading the star-system from the country. The series is directed by one of the totems of Icelandic cinema, Baltasar Kormákur, who is also its creator and who from his production company RKV Studios has promoted some of the highest-grossing films in its history: 101 Reykjavik O Marshes, based on the noir novel by the prolific Arnaldur Indridason, stand out in his portfolio.

There is also Kormákur behind the intriguing series Boiler, a production that combines supernatural terror with existential drama in the context of the eruption of a volcano on the island.

More conventional but just as effective, which makes it already a perfectly oiled series to work in the mainstream, it is The Valhalla Murders. An Oslo policeman is sent to Reykjavik to lead the investigation of a series of crimes with the same modus operandi, and rivalries within the Icelandic police station, with two women in charge, add to the plot. Too Stella Blomkvist, directed by Óskar Thór Axelsson equal to Caught up, is a detective series with a peculiar lawyer as the protagonist.

The deep-rooted Icelandic noir has also extended its tentacles from literature to audiovisual production, Authors such as Lilja Sigurdardóttir and Yrsa Sigurdardóttir have participated in scripts for Boiler and Caught up, without going further. One of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s novels, I know who you are, has been made into a movie by Axelsson. The last king of the Icelandic crime novel, the best seller Ragnar Jonásson, will soon bring us the characters from his saga (published in Seix Barral) in a series already in production.

Related news

Yes, we have already been able to see a couple of chapters of the new series of the protagonist of Caught up, a comedy about two friends who undertake a journey through the western fjords after a long time without treating each other and in which the characters play with their appearance in well-known series in the small Icelandic community. Journey It has been presented at the Seriealizados Fest along with another new bet of the country, Blackport, that dissects the Icelandic fishing sector of the eighties and its reconversion.

On the platform streaming Filmin you can see many of these titles, as well as other interesting hits from the country’s production such as A song called hate, a documentary focused on the scandal that the Icelandic representative in Eurovision, Hatari, led in questioning Israel’s policy, or Let me fall, a portrait of the most traumatized adolescence in Icelandic society at the hands of director Baldvin Zophoniasson, well known and a myth in the country.


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