Far North (2007)
In today’s modern world there are few places that are left that can rightfully be described as remote and inhospitable. One such place that remains is the artic. With its barren vast fields of snow and ice it takes a lot just to eke out a minimal survival. While this would seem to be a perfect place to set a story the arduous location makes it extremely difficult for any film cast and crew. Sure, with computer graphics you can simulate almost any environment but there is nothing like a true on location film. Asif Kapadia has taken on this challenge with his latest film aptly named ‘Far North’. He chose to do the principle filming in the bleakest northern regions of Norway and this attention to details is obvious to the audience. With such a setting there is little wonder that the film is visually stunning. There is a majestic beauty to the snow clad landscape that will amaze you. Many directors would be fine with a meager story just so they can show off their talents in cinematography but Kapadia is far too into the art of film to allow that. He provides an engaging story that is gripping from start to finish. This is the kind of film that if you just looked at the poster or the cover of the DVD you might not be inclined to pick up and watch. This is a tragic mistake; the film is one of the better to come around in ages. It defies almost everything that should be considered to make a successful movie. By doing this the cast and crew have created something increasingly rare in film today; originality. Most would take such a rugged setting and use it to drive an action film of survival. This is a straight forward drama that is compelling in every aspect. The film has made the rounds on the international festival circuit but in case you don’t frequent them Image Entertainment has made it easy for you to watch this movie. All you have to do is get the DVD, sit back and enjoy a film that will take you on a journey both geographically but emotionally.
Asif Kapadia wrote the screenplay with newcomer Sara Maitland and his writing partner for his breakout feature film ‘The Warrior’. Maitland was responsible for the basic story and if this is how she starts out I can’t wait to see her future projects. Although flashbacks bring in several other characters this is basically a three person play. Many aspects of how this story is told are reminiscent of a really good stage play. The concentration of the story is on the interpersonal relationships between the three leads. Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) is a woman who lives in the far northern reaches of Norway beyond were the reindeer herders frequent. A while ago she rescued a young girl, Anja (Michelle Krusiec) who has now grown into a beautiful young woman. One fateful day the figure of a man, Loki (Sean Bean) is seen in the distance. Against her better judgment Saiva brings the collapsed man to their shelter. What follows is a taut drama as but women vide for Loki’s attentions and come to grips with their own past. It should be noted that in Norse mythology Loki was the god of mischief and discord. He was not usually directly responsible for things going wrong but typically acted as a catalyst to instigate things. The use of this name for the male protagonist is fitting. He is the unexpected factor that disrupts the everyday routine of that the women have fallen into over the years they have spent together. Kapadia has described this story as a dark fairy tale. This brings it away from the normal narrative that a film like this normally would take. There is almost a surreal quality to the story that does feel like some sort of fairy tale. We here in the States might have a certain criteria for such a storytelling format but this appears to fit with the northern variation of a fairy tale.
Kapadia also excels as the director of this film. Simply put he weaves magic with his use of imagery and presentation of the story. He definitely employs the scenery as an unspoken character. It is far more than a setting it interacts with the human characters frequently forcing their hand in a given situation. Kapadia had more than the usual difficulties and restriction on this shot. That far north there is only a small window of opportunity to film. The winter nights are long and dark while in the summer the snow required for the story is just not there. That left him with a month or so in the fall to get all the principle photography completed. When he was shooting the cast crew had to be taken to the location by a Russian ice breaker. Location shots are always a challenge but Kapadia went above and beyond for his craft with this film.
Saiva has always been mistrustful of other humans. A long time ago a shaman informed her she was born under a curse; she would bring ruin to any man who loves her. Within the film there are flashbacks that show how tragically this curse has affected her. One day a hoard of colonial soldiers with guns destroyed her village killing nearly everyone. Saiva managed to escape and make her way further north to a desolate safety. She also rescued a baby, Anja and the two manage a bare survival in the wilderness. As Anja grows up Saiva tries to instill her complete mistrust of any stranger. She tells Anjo that the way to respond to one is to slit his throat. The two women hunt whenever possible. For them the kill provides food, clothing and shelter. They live a meager existence practically in silence; words are not needed to describe a situation they both know all too well. One day a man is seen on the horizon drawing closer. He collapses and instead of taking her own deadly advice Saiva brings the man to the crude animal skin hut she shares with Anja. Both women are attracted to the man now in their hut. While they had to depend on mutual cooperation to survive now Saiva and Anja are competing for the attentions of this handsome stranger. Despite the rugged environment Anja is the perkier and friendlier of the pair and Loki begins to drift more towards her. This does not sit well with the older Saiva who know finds herself resentful of her young ward. Just when you think you have this film figured out the third act takes a drastic and unexpected turn. This twist is something that has to be seen to appreciate but it is a somewhat shocking conclusion.
Bean may seem to be underplaying his role but it works here. He is the catalyst; the one that causes change without changing himself. His presence provokes the women to forever alter their relationship. Yeoh may be best known for more action oriented roles but this film demonstrates that she is more than capable of handling a deeply emotional portrayal like this. Krusiec may be young but she has quite a resume mostly in television. She has shown a versatile that is exciting to watch. Here she plays off Yeoh perfectly.
Image Entertainment has done it again. They have one of the most diverse catalogs of films on DVD and this is a great example of the quality they have to offer. This is something to enjoy and once you start watching you certainly will.