Folklore, fable and family dynamics breed a challenging chimaera of a movie the horror of which arrives with the self-evidence of fairy tales. Such are part of the inspiration for Icelandic debut-director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s captivating cinematic condensation of mythologic motifs from his home country. Its People’s close conjunction to nature – a relation revealed by seemingly incidental scenes as far less symbiotic than the protagonist couple on their remote, yet idyllic sheep farm might believe – drives a metaphor about grief and gifts that were never ours for the taking. This image of giving and receiving is augmented by the narrative’s starting on Christmas Night.
This darkest time of the year, when horned hybrids like Krampus and the Julbokken haunt European traditions, aligns the sombre scenery with ghostly foreboding Christmas tales. Simultaneously, the distinctively Christian symbolism is emphasized by the iconographic poster art. The evocatively named Maria (Noomi Rapace) cradles the lamb-human she and husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) adopt from one of the ewes. Clues like an empty nursery and the couple’s routined parenting reveal that the disturbingly adorable Ada, the title being of this strikingly composed study of grief foregoing loud scares for lingering unease, fills in the gap left by an eponymous deceased child.
It’s these subtle connections uncovering a selfishness amounting to cruelty underneath the protagonist’s tender care for their little lamb. The uncanniness of her appearance blurring the line between creepy and cute is overshadowed by her treatment from two people who only love her for comfort she gives them. Their deceptively harmonious life is complicated by the arrival of Ingvar’s wayward brother (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) and Ada’s biological family. The landscape’s harsh beauty serves as poetic backdrop of an equally gentle and gruesome parable which by diffusing the separation between life stock and pet, pet and kin points towards human’s possessive exploitation of a nurturing nature.
- OT: Dýrið
- Director: Valdimar Jóhannsson
- Screenplay: Sjón, Valdimar Jóhannsson
- Country: Iceland, Sweden, Poland
- Year: 2021
- Running time: 106 min.
- Cast: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson
- Date of Release: 06.01.2022 (GER)
- Image © Koch Films