The first production filmed entirely in Greenland, with dialogue spoken in the Inuit language of that part of the world, “Heart of Light” is an intriguing, at times baffling, quite unique blend of social realism and folklore. Given tremendous distinction by the dynamic widescreen lensing and framing of a vast, icy landscape, and accompanied by a delicately apt score, pic deserves to be seen at festivals in the coming months and to be snapped up by quality Eurotube programmers looking for something out of the ordinary.
This $ 3 million production contains initially disconcerting elements for the unsuspecting viewer not attuned to the culture so lovingly depicted here. The abrupt switches between a sometimes brutal reality and an exotic mysticism provide plenty of challenges, but comparisons can perhaps be made with the classical school of Japanese cinema, in which ghosts visit the real world in order to instruct mortals how to behave.
Pic opens with B&W footage depicting the formal ceremony in 1947 when Greenland became part of Denmark. The Danish king, Christian X, hands over a ceremonial rifle to Niisi Lynge, the Greenlander who organized the event. Fifty years later, Niisi’s son, Rasmus (Rasmus Lyberth) keeps the weapon proudly displayed in his apartment. But it’s clear that his father’s dream of dragging Greenland into the modern age has turned into a nightmare. The natives live marginalized lives in a world run by Danes, and many of them, including Rasmus himself, have become hopeless alcoholics.
Though married to the forceful Marie (Vivi Nielsen), Rasmus frequently gets into trouble because of his drinking, and he even ruins the coming-of-age birthday party of his younger son, Simon (Kenneth Petersen). Following in his father’s drunken footsteps, Simon’s older brother, Niisi (Knud Petersen), loses control, takes a gun and kills two people, including Simon’s girlfriend, before shooting himself.
After a period of violent grief, Rasmus decides to redeem himself and his family by undertaking a dangerous hunting tripinto the interior. With a team of unruly huskies and a broken-down sled, he sets forth into the frozen landscape.
Until this point the film has been brutally realistic. But as Gronlykke follows his protagonist on his foolhardy, epic quest, the film gradually shifts gears. First comes a curious scene involving a pair of sophisticated young female environmentalists from Denmark who sneer at Rasmus with his poor equipment and second-rate clothes; scene is played for sharp, bitter satire. Then a chopper lands in the wilderness and its pilot tries, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rasmus to return home.
Next, Rasmus stumbles upon an elderly, long-haired hermit, a “Qivittoq” (Anda Kristiansen), who takes the traveler into a mystical world where he can be reunited with his father and discover the secret message linked to the rifle the king presented the old man years ago.
Gronlykke doesn’t follow the normal narrative rules with this intriguing saga of redemption and self-examination, but “Heart of Light” manages to fascinate on several levels.
Natural performances from the native Greenlanders help anchor the film, while the amazing landscapes provide a rich backdrop for this lushly photographed odyssey. Technically, the film leaves nothing to be desired.