This Friday 26th, ‘Lamb’ opens in theaters, Valdimar Jóhannsson’s original proposal that swept the Sitges Festival -Best Film, Best Actress (Noomi Rapace) and the Citizen Kane Award for New Direction- We speak with its director.
It is perhaps the most original film of the last year, and one of the most interesting. This is confirmed by his brilliant career in festivals: Lamb won the award for originality in the section A certain look from Cannes and is the film selected by Iceland to participate in the next edition of the Oscars. In addition, it swept the Sitges Festival, taking the awards for Best Film, Best Actress (Noomi rapace) and the Citizen Kane Award for New Director (Valdimar Jóhannsson).
It finally arrives in cinemas from the hand of Vertigo Films, this Friday, November 26. It is the first film as a director of Valdimar Jóhannsson, is backed by a magnificent script, an amazing photography and realistic interpretations, led by Noomi Rapace in one of the best roles of her career. The initial premise is peculiar: a couple of shepherds discover that one of the sheep that has just been born in their flock, is not a normal lamb, and has much of a girl, so they decide to raise it as their daughter. We interviewed its director Valdimar Jóhannsson (1978) at the Sitges Festival, and we understood why it is one of the films of the year.
It is an all-rounder of the production teams in Iceland, every time a ‘major’ travels to the frozen country to shoot a blockbuster (in the list of films and series in which it has participated is fireworks): Game of Thrones, Flags of our fathers, Prometheus, Fast & Furious 8, Rogue One, Batman Begins …Consider your teacher to Béla Tarr and her aesthetic devotion is slow cinema. Which gives us two clear clues about his character: he is a born worker, a filmmaker who thinks mainly in images and whose narrative runs slowly and silently, making the fantastic dimension of his story grow until it permeates every corner of the frame.
Question. On Lamb there is very little talk, why?
Answer. From the beginning we decided that there was going to be very little dialogue. I think it is much more interesting to meet the characters through their silences than what they can say. He also thinks that in the film there are many animals that, of course, do not speak either, so we were placing the protagonists at the same silent level. You have to understand that Béla Tarr was my mentor. So he instilled in me the idea of silence a lot.
P. Many critics in Cannes spoke of «high terror», the same label that has been hung on Ari Aster or Robert Eggers.
R. I’m not interested in telling people what to think or say about the film. If there are people who talk about Lamb like high terror, well that’s fine with me. Now, whoever goes to the cinema expecting to find a horror movie, will be disappointed.
P. Your film is very solid when it comes to getting along the family part and the strictly fantastic part of the film
R. I always made it very clear that this was not going to be a horror film, but a film that delved into the dramatic nature of a family isolated from the world that will be surprised by an element that seems to have emerged from an Icelandic folk tale. I have hundreds of drawings of Ada that delve into that mystery. I never wanted to frame the film within any genre, although I understand that there are people who place it as a horror film. For me it is a surreal family tale with a fantastic element.
List of honors Sitges 2021: ‘Lamb’, with Noomi Rapace, wins the award for best film
P. Lamb is heir to a long tradition of slow movies or slow movies, What would you say are your most direct references?
R. I was collecting many paintings, also drawing some myself, and a lot of music, with the idea of making a reference book about the film, so that I myself could understand what was the style and character that I wanted for it. Later my producers introduced me to Sjón, the screenwriter, who I taught the book to and we started working together every week for many years.
P. Many years?
R. Yes, it took us a long time. Because we did not take, we sat down and began to chop script. It was a much more gradual process. Thinking, talking, trying to find the images we wanted, we watched many movies … but above all: we took notes. We took notes nonstop.
P. The staging of the film is very calculated, very measured.
Sitges Festival Day 2: A different silence from the lambs, ‘Lamb’ by Valdimar Jóhannsson
R. After the first script was finished, I spent many months preparing a detailed story-board. When I had it, I worked a lot with Eli Arenson, my director of photography, studying with him the camera movements in the same locations where we were going to shoot the film. It was like shooting the whole movie before actually shooting it.
We did all the scenes to which they were going to be represented, so when it was time to shoot with actors, we already knew perfectly how each and every one of the shots of the film would be. It was always clear to me that my film was going to be «slow cinema»: slow pace, few shots …
P. How do you manage the difference between what you have in mind before shooting and what ends up coming out at the end of the shoot?
R. I think there is little margin between what I want and what I get. Or at least it looks a lot like it. It is true that in assembly you correct some details. But generally I try to correct it before I get to the cutting room. In the shoot itself, you already discard parts or take solutions that make editing much easier and I have an incredible editor: Agnieszka Glinska.
P. The list of titles in which you have collaborated -be it being a camera, doing FX, as electric, etc- is incredible: Prometheus, Transformers: The era of extinction, Fast & Furious 8, Rogue one, The war of tomorrow, Game of Thrones… How did you do it?
It has an easy explanation. Whenever a big production comes to shoot in Iceland, whether for one reason or another, I end up involved in the production teams of the same. I believe that I have worked in all possible aspects of film production: art, lighting, digital effects … He thinks that they are gigantic teams, three hundred people only for the electrical part, while in Lamb we were in total 13 people. Now, you learn a lot, working on productions of that size.