Wow! I really liked Far North (2007)
.CAUTION: This is a horror movie: in addition to detailed animal slaughter, there are rapidly freezing rivers of blood, and a realistic rape. I usually loathe horror movies, but this was so anchored in the beautiful landscape I was charmed.
It's available on Netflix DVD, and for sale at all your favorite media outlets. There are lots of pictures to give you a feel for the stunning landscape: here at lead star Michelle Yeoh's fansite
No captions in the following trailer; no caption nor subtitles in the movie; very little dialogue in the movie. (Most people speak in tight close-up; I only needed to rewind a dozen times.)
Shot above the arctic circle in Svalbard, Norway, two women occupy a stark landscape: Michelle Yeoh (the elder) and Michelle Krusiec (the younger). The cinematography and landscape are stunning: a full year of snowfields, glaciers, crevasses, tundra, moonlight, snowlight, and the Aurora Borealis. I didn't realize snow and ice could be all those colors! Music used very
sparingly. I consulted with laceblade
and we agreed that the actors spoke so little we lacked the data to assess Far North on the Bechdel Test. Are the two mother and daughter? lovers? strangers thrown together forced to share every resource, including patience, love and annoyance?
Eventually Loki, a white guy with generic Euro-accent stumbles in to their lives. (I don't think he's supposed to be a human incarnation of the Norse God of Trickery, but maybe I’m not deep enough.) Sean Bean does a good job of disappearing behind a beard and frostbitten cheeks in this role. The women welcome a fresh face, resent having to share and teach the interloper, and eventually engage in a very dangerous battle for Loki, which doesn’t end well. The ending is as graphic as the up-close hunting and skinning of seals, reindeer and other scarce wildlife.
Director Asif Kapadia read the Sara Maitland short story “True North,” inhaled its atmosphere, and brings it beautifully to life. (My library also lent me the 1996 Maitland short-story collection Angel Maker
. Although I love Maitland’s matter-of-fact new weird mixed with 20th century Jane Austen, I think the movie is the greater piece of art.)
Maitland’s story evokes an archetypical north, with no specific cultural signifiers. Kapadia recognized that in a visual medium, there must be some heritage visible: he chose Sami (f/k/a Laplanders)
, the indigenous people of Scandinavia, near his northern shooting location. Both female leads have Asian faces; Sean the Interloper is believably white; the reindeer herders look like any of the peoples in the Arctic Circle. There’s an inexplicable influx of Russians who play the Unambiguously Bad Guys. (Is this during World War II? Did they wander through from Finland? Hey, the movie ain't perfect.)
After you're creeped out from FAR NORTH on DVD, I do commend the "extra" features. Unlike most, these convey interesting info. In particularly, all the "life on the ice" scenes were shot on the ice. One gets a different appreciation for the "cuddle for warmth" trope when you realize all the goosebumps on the actors' lovely limbs are genuine.
If you’re feeling oppressed by local heat, this movie will make you feel cooler. If you’re feeling oppressed by local cold, this movie will make you feel better.