Remember to pack plenty of warm clothes and a nice, small camera to photograph the extraordinary scenery because we're heading to Iceland and travelling in rural areas there. Director-writer Hlynur Pálmason returns with psychological drama Godland (Volaða land in Icelandic, Vanskabte land in Danish) which examines colonialism, religion and exploitation, and how those can intertwine. Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) is a young Danish priest who gets sent in the late 19th century to colonised Iceland to manage the building of a new church. Whilst there, he's accompanied by a translator (Hilmar Guðjónsson) and local guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurðsson) as Lucas doesn't speak or understand Icelandic. Harsh climate, dangerous travels, death and irritable Ragnar end up challenging Lucas' faith, purpose and temper.
Godland's 140-minute runtime and topic of religion might push people away at first but anyone would probably be happy to know that along the way, it's also a small-scale epic. Pálmason creates arresting imagery with cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff's static compositions (inspired by old still photography which Lucas also practises) and Frosti Friðriksson's production design which covers both environmental elements and things built by humans, where you can often see the destruction left behind as Lucas gets closer to a place that he wasn't invited to.
There are moments in the second half that perhaps unnecessarily repeat some of the hardships that he faces, in the sense that message tends to stay the same and scenes go on for too long, but for most of it, there's still a lot to take in also on a thematic level. Hove displays enough range in his performance so you can track Lucas' spiritual journey, mostly when he's so far gone that nature has taken fully over as faith is nowhere to be found and Lucas can't just simply blindly rely on it.
Smileys: Production design, cinematography, story, locations
New retirement plan just dropped and it's a major bummer, just so you know going in. Director-writer Hayakawa Chie makes her solo feature debut with an emotional dystopian drama Plan 75 (same title in Japanese) which begins to ask big questions about one's morals and legacy. The film is based around three different threads that come together at a certain point after the Japanese government introduces a new euthanasia program called Plan 75 for those over the age of 75 to cope with the country's unsustainable age structure. We get to know Mishi (Baishô Chieko), an elderly woman who's considering the program, Himoru (Isomura Hayato), a Plan 75 sales agent who has a personal connection to a client, and Maria (Stefanie Arianne), a Filipino care worker.
Adapting a previous anthology segment that was co-written with Jason Gray, Hayakawa clearly recognised the potential of that premise and she manages to expand on it rather smoothly as it's really well established how quickly this morally ambiguous program becomes a normal thing in the society.
There are more hits and misses with Himoru and Maria's storylines but with Mishi, Hayakawa and Baishô create a poignant, thought-provoking journey as Mishi deals with loss, loneliness and the idea of closure and whether that ever really exists. Baishô strips away all armour in her performance, bouncing off with ease with her elder co-stars who play Mishi's friends before delivering heartrending material in couple scenes involving another Plan 75 agent. Sometimes the film is a bit too afraid to explore some of its more interesting ideas once it introduces the conflicts, but this one character is definitely enough for you to sign up for less than two hours.
Smileys: Premise, Chieko Baishô
Frowneys: Nothing too bad