It would be easy to succumb to as many sheep puns and jokes as possible. The truth is, until I get to the end of this article, I won’t be making any promises. However, in the recently released trailer for mutton, inexplicable gifts are nothing to regret. The film, which recently received its premiere on July 13 at the Cannes Film Festival, marks Valdimar Jóhannsson’s directorial debut.
Valdimar Jóhannsson co-wrote the film with Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, better known as Sjón, an Icelandic novelist, poet and lyricist. Sjón is known largely for his collaborations with fellow Icelandic Björk, as well as his performances with The Sugarcubes under the alias Johnny Triumph. From a writing perspective, Sjón would be best described to the uninitiated as a surrealist.
mutton tells the story of a farming couple in rural Iceland who receive an inexplicable and almost miraculous gift, which they interpret as a gift from nature itself as a means to help ease the pain of a lasting loss. Of course, events inevitably take a right turn from dreamy melancholy and folk drama to outright horror and upbeat comedy. A perfect match for Sjón’s surreal pen.
The trailer itself is refreshingly devoid of details that could be directly tagged as spoilers. Jóhannsson’s camera work makes the most of the strikingly beautiful Icelandic landscapes, while also bringing home the sense of abject isolation one would feel when farming so far out in the wild. The trailer does not concern itself with the dialogue of the two protagonists that are shown on screen.
You also don’t need to proclaim yourself out loud by adding the bombast of the typical trailer narrator. Instead, they treat us to a series of seemingly random cuts, with characters humming or vocalizing, singing to a child (yet to be seen) in a crib, or carrying a baby-sized bundle that has not been fully revealed. Other clips from the trailer focus on herds of sheep staring at something off camera, or the female character burying something that looks a lot like a horn. A low, sinister tone plays through the background all the time. The cumulative effect is that of an ephemeral and dreamy atmosphere that threatens to turn into an indescribable nightmare at any moment.
The cast appears to be as worn as the trailer itself. Björn Hlynur Haraldsson plays “Pétur” with the second male role of “Ingvar” by Hilmir Snær Guðnaso. The most recognizable member of the cast is Noomi rapace, best known for her role in the Swedish adaptation of the Millennium series and of course like Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in 2012 Prometheus. In Lamb, Rapace plays the character of “Maria.”
The trailer alone is a wonderfully moderate exercise in “less is more.” This trailer refuses to give mutton even when the dreamy, dark and menacing montage shown in the Minute Plus trailer only serves to pique curiosity. Take a look for yourself. Never has impending fear looked so picturesque or, of course, so bleak.