At the end of the 19th century, a young Danish priest undertakes a difficult journey to a remote part of Iceland to build a church there and photograph the inhabitants of the place. In addition to noting the historical rivalry between the two peoples, the priest finds himself confronted with his own faith.

There is a lot of beauty in Godland. However, as in any film where the man is measured against elements greater than himself, from Fitzcarraldo to Atanarjuat through all those works – like The Mission – where faith must face severe tests, the beauty of this Hlynur Pálmason’s third feature film (Winter Brothers, Such a White Day) deserves it.

In a contemplative mode, the story recounts a mission entrusted to Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), a young Danish Lutheran priest who, at the end of the 19th century, is sent to a remote corner of Iceland to build a church there and take photos of local people. The journey, which the filmmaker evokes in a square frame with rounded corners (as if the grandiose landscapes were in the eye of a vintage camera), will prove to be nightmarish.

In addition to the pitfalls associated with traveling by sea and, once the volcanic island has been reached, the winter weather for hundreds of kilometers before arriving at its destination – a real Stations of the Cross – the man of faith must deal with his alien status. Not having mastered the Icelandic language, Lucas must in fact suffer from the historical hostility of a conquered population towards its conquerors, the Danes directing at that time the destinies of a country whose inhabitants are fiercely independent of spirit.

Conceived by drawing inspiration from real photographs taken at that time, Godland is thus interested in the daily life of these people living in a harsh environment, but the filmmaker dwells above all on the spiritual combat between the priest and his guide. This confrontation will also result in a deep questioning for a young man in whom doubt gradually sets in, to the point of taking the form of personal bankruptcy.

Launched last year at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was presented as part of the Un certain regard section, Godland is on view in its original version with French subtitles.