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  Far North The Chill In The Air
Year: 2007
Director: Asif Kapadia
Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Krusiec, Sean Bean, Gary Pillai, Bjarne Osterud, Sven Henriksen, Neeru Agarwal, Per Egil Aske, Håkan Niva, Espen Prestbakmo, Jan Olav Dahl
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Near the top of the world lives Saiva (Michelle Yeoh), who when she was a baby the shaman of her tribe told her mother that she was cursed and must not live amongst those of her own kind. Her mother raised her anyway, but Saiva is an outcast nevertheless, and has only one companion in Anja (Michelle Krusiec), the younger girl who has been with her since childhood. Today they are making their way across the frozen wastes, and are forced to kill and eat one of the dogs which pulls their sled; although it was growing old, Anja is still upset. But the real upset is to come, with the arrival of a stranger...

An odd, fable-like tale, Far North was adapted from the Sara Maitland short story by director Asif Kapadia and his co-writer Tim Miller, and for the most part looks like a slice of life from a remote area that hardly any viewers would have had any experience of. As the story draws on, you would hope nobody has to put up with what happens, particularly in light of what goes on at the end, but before we get there the film seems to be progressing along the lines of something like the adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's The Fox from the sixties, where two women find their sexual tensions brought to the fore by the introduction of a man.

Yet there are vague aspects to this which has one, for example, wondering when exactly it is supposed to be set, as it appears to be at some point in the twentieth century, though precisely where is none too clear. There is technology here, but it could have hailed from any time from the nineteen-thirties onwards; it's not really important to the plot, but does leave the characters somewhat adrift not only in the landscape, but in time as well. Those surroundings are luminously photographed, and if nothing else the film makes a pretty good picture postcard of a film if anyone would have visited there as a tourist.

But Kapadia has other things on his mind, and after a while you cotton on that it's not The Fox that was his inspiration, but the classic Japanese horror Onibaba, which too featured a couple of women, one older and one younger, who are thrown into turmoil in an isolated area of the world. The turmoil-bringer here is Sean Bean's Loki, a soldier who Saiva discovers half dead after he has presumably either been separated from his party or has deserted. She takes him back to her tent and restores him, and at first the three of them get along swimmingly, but after making a move on Saiva, Loki turns his attentions to Anja, sowing the seeds of tragedy.

As we see in flashbacks, Saiva is not a stranger to this kind of harrowing event, but she is usually the victim, first in that she was judged unclean by her tribe, then in that she loses the man she loves after he is caught with his tribe and killed by some ne'erdowell troops, though she does get her revenge which indicates she doesn't lie down and take life's insults as a matter of course. This is all leading up to a startling ending, but one which after we have seen what has been realistically depicted is hard to take on its own terms. In fact, it's more like something out of a horror film, and yanks you out of the carefully concocted mood that has pervaded the film up to that point. Never mind the fact that what Saiva does is unlikely to have been convincing, it's just plain weird, a memorable but more than slightly ridiculous way to finish what had been casting its own spell until then. Music by Dario Marianelli.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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