The first in a regular series of columns by Chay Lemoine: Gudny Halldorsdottir’s Honour of the House
Every semester in my Introduction to Film class and recently in an Introduction to Iceland class I show Gudny Halldordottir’s film Honour of the House based on the novella written by her father Halldor Laxness. Each year I give background on the film discussing Halldor Laxness, the novella and the film.
Each year my preface has changed. A few years ago I introduced the film as very good, the next year I used the word “great”. But after repeated viewing of the film I have come to realize this is not just a great film, it’s one of the ‘all time’ great films. This year I introduced the film as one of the classics of World Cinema.
Gudny has taken her father’s rather simple tale and given it a moral and emotional complexity. The tale as told by Gudny contains a flawed hero, and a beautiful yet evil protagonist. The Mother as a solitary Greek chorus interprets both the action on the film and her own lost faith through the selfishness of those in her family. The roles are perfectly executed. There are no flawed performances in the film. From the principal performers to the smallest of speaking roles, each actor is perfectly tailored for their parts. Special mention should be given to the performance of Tinna Gunnlaugsdottir whose role as Thurid is clearly star quality.
The cinematographer Per Kallberg has framed the film beautifully with still shots that exemplify the beauty and mysterious quality of Iceland. The screenplay written by Gudny is both literal and poetic and creates a fairytale aspect while still allowing the viewers to believe that it is a truthful representation.
Each year at the end of the semester after viewing 10-12 acclaimed films the students are asked what is their personal favourite. Most votes are given to Gudny’s Icelandic classic. Lovers of film would do well to seek out Honour of the House and experience one of the finest films out of Iceland, Europe or Hollywood. Like fine wine the film gets better with age and as with truthful artistic renderings, new discoveries are made with each viewing.
Chay Lemoine is an American scholar who, among other things, is a renowned Halldor Laxness expert. Chay will be writing a regular column called ‘The View from Here’ on IceNews where he will talk about Laxness, life, Iceland, and whatever else is on his mind.
Main page photo: still from Honour of the House (1999) from the Icelandic Film Centre