MA (106 minutes), selected cinemas
What’s with the vogue for films named after farm animals? Valdimar Johannsson’s Lamb has found its way to Australian cinemas just a week after the Nicolas Cage vehicle Pig. Throw in First Cow from earlier in the year, and we’re halfway to a box set.
As it happens, First Cow and Lamb are both brought to us by the American company A24, known for straddling the line between arthouse and genre cinema. The cynical view would be that what we’re seeing here is a form of branding – using a mascot to help a small title stand out from the pack.
To put it a bit more neutrally, one thing shared by the three very different films listed above is that they’re really stories about people. Rather than being characters in any full sense, the animals are entities the plot revolves around, familiar in appearance yet beyond our ken: in a word, uncanny.
Lamb is set on a remote Icelandic farm, run by Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonason) and Maria (Noomi Rapace), the sort of couple you might expect to find in a folk tale: neither old nor young, outwardly at peace but conspicuously childless.
Presumably desperate to fill the gap, they adopt the lamb of the title (who is not quite an ordinary lamb) and treat her like a human daughter, giving her a crib in their bedroom and a name, Ada.
I say “presumably” because this is a film that leaves a great deal of room for speculation. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, especially early on, and the conversations that do take place, such as a non-sequitur exchange about time travel, tend to be more enigmatic than revealing.
Still, by the time a third human character, Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson), enters the story, Lamb has taken a definite turn towards magic realism – which is about as much as I can reveal in turn without spoilers.