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FAR NORTH is a bleak, disturbing story about isolation, relationships
and revenge. Director Asif Kapadia adapted this minimal dialogue
screenplay with Tim Miller based on the story 'True North' by Sara
Maitland, and even with the strong trio of actors, have managed to
maintain the main character as the vast, natural, incomprehensibly
difficult ice seas of the northern cap of the globe. The film is as
majestically beautiful as the story is terrifying.
Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) was pronounced evil by a shaman who witnessed her birth: any person who comes near her will fall to harm. Cast out from her tribe, Saiva has survived into adulthood accompanied by the young girl Anja (Michelle Krusiec) she has raised, living a simple existence in tents, dependent on any available food, and always in hiding from a strange pursuing army of soldiers: flashbacks show how Saiva had been physically abused by this strange band of wandering men. When danger approaches, the two women simply move on. Saiva finds an injured and starving soldier Yoki (Sean Bean) who is likewise escaping from the marauding band, and brings him into her tent, nursing him to health, exchanging signs of friendship to a stranger that seems so natural yet so foreign to guarded Saiva. As Yoki recovers, Anja's curiosity about love and men is heightened and soon Anja and Yoki are planning to strike out on their own. When Saiva witnesses the passion between the two people in her life, she reacts as a threatened animal and the horrors that follow echo across the frozen ice of her isolated life.
Michelle Yeoh is astonishingly fine in this difficult role and Krusiec and Bean provide solid ensemble support. Praise must go to Asif Kapadia for his tense direction of this thriller, but kudos are also in order for the extraordinary cinematography by Roman Osin and the appropriately eerie musical score by Dario Marianelli. Much of what happens in this film is shocking to the viewer's senses, but it so in keeping with the animal responses in nature that it says much about our concept of 'civilization'. FAR NORTH is a remarkable achievement. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I must disagree with many of the other comments here. Personally, I
really liked the way the story/movie ended. The story has a mythic
quality to it that is reminiscent of Native American folktales:
merciless, inevitable, and grounded.
Certainly, if people were hoping for a happy-ever-after movie, they would be disappointed. But the casual brutality of the way Saiva kills the dog at the beginning should have been a clue for viewers.
In the end, each of the characters ends up living out their destiny, even if it has been postponed for a while: Saiva becomes the solitary, evil woman she was predicted to be by the shaman, Anya dies as she would have had Saiva not saved her, and Loki freezes to death, as he would have if Saiva had not found him. In the end, Saiva has undone all the ways in which she attempted to escape fate, and the others have followed.
It's a tale of destinies postponed, but finally met. For this reason, I found the story very mythic, almost like a Greek tragedy.
This film truly is Far North of anything you've seen before. It caught me by surprise. Had second thoughts before seeing it. Was very happy to have seen it. Unusual story. Interesting. Well made. If there is something typical here its the way the director takes his time to depict the entire situation of the characters. He is not unlike other directors who are not concerned about not showing something every few minutes just to engage, excite or keep his audience. Patience is a virtue I am happy to have and which served me well in viewing this film. Those who are more into usual Hollywood fare (and those who like their films to be easily explained/understood) will probably not like this film. If you want to appreciate this film (and most works of art), you have to keep an open mind. I highly recommend this film.
Somewhat under-looked British director Asif Kapadia's 2007 film, Far
North, opens with a rather exquisite tracking shot which sweeps across
a very large, very open ice glacier that is shown to be split in
several areas and thus, beginning to fall apart. The manner in which
Kapadia's film opens echoes the manner in which it closes, with a
similar tracking shot over what appears to be the same spread of ice
both sequences are representative of both the society within the film,
as well as the mother-daughter bond two people of that ilk share and
experience throughout. Cracks are initially there, as if something is
melting or falling apart; and are apparent in the opening shot, while
the condition of the glacier at the very end is representative of just
how far things have come between the two people and the world around
them as we witness those respective horrors and see the condition of
the ice at the end.
Unfolding in a large and ice cold location, which is wide enough to encompass Russian soldiers; people whose names sound Nordic as well as characters whom might well be of either Kazakh or Tajik descent, although shot in Norway, the film covers the trials and experiences of a middle aged woman named Saiva (Yeoh) and her adopted younger daughter named Anja (Krusiec). Saiva and Anja's basic, but brutal, way of life is thrust into our faces by way of some shock tactics of animalistic levels, in which an animal itself is on the wrong end of some harm. This rather shocking sequence of raw predicament and must-do human survival consequently sets the overall tone of the film; that raw look at how human beings act and react when push turns to shove and emotions, sensations and predicaments must be confronted. Throughout, murder and savagery is the order of the day and desperate scenarios are used as the basis for the human mind to act as the subject of the study.
The film is narrated to us by Saiva, whose opening speech tells us of how a village elder of some description once told her many years ago that she would bring death and wrong-doing to whomever she cared for, or just generally loved. Looking up the daughter's name, Anja, on Wikipedia sees you directed to 'Anya'; which I read translates out of Russian and into English as 'bringing goodness', thus interestingly contradicting Saiva's supposed curse. The two seem to have gotten along rather well for all these years, what could possibly go wrong?
Saiva and Anja travel around quite a bit, in fact they travel a lot. Despite being located within the large, open and daunting snowy wilderness in which they're based; it cannot hide them from the dangers that lurk within. The reason for their constant moving around is due to a large group of Russian soldiers who, for unspecified reasons, are hopping from town-to-town; village-to-village; settlement-to-settlement, murdering the inhabitants; raping the women and pillaging any of the goods. Indeed, there is an altercation later on in which the threat of skinning a baby alive is issued by those nasty Russkies - crikey. The extent as to exactly what's going on is never fully explained, which is a route Kapadia wisely decides to go down so as to not veer too far away from what the film is essentially about: this rural set drama with essence of romance; horrifically looking at the results of conflict within a close-knit bond. What it isn't, is a war film exploring the extent of a conflict and consequent would-be escape of two innocents.
The conflict within arises when a certain Loki stumbles into their world. Loki, played by Sean Bean in a role that somewhat goes against his usual on-screen type, is found by one of the women when out on a hunting expedition. He is a solider, only he is not of the Russian variety, and seems to be in just as much danger as the women are in relation to them. Loki's introduction to the text, and his existence in the text, creates direct opposition to the established norms and ways of life the women go by. His entering the fray is a mixture of west meeting east; of male meeting female and of the modern world meeting the ancient. These ideas are expressed in his ability to introduce modernity to the two in the form of a transistor radio which clearly excites Anya, as well as the mending of a motor on the back the women's boat which they'd previously only got about in by way of rowing. The instance in which the motor starts running sees Saiva realise this, and has her cautiously approach the rear in an attempt to try and make sense of it all; since it is this new, unfamiliar and outside force now driving them.
Like the director's 2001 effort The Warrior, the film is beautiful but brutal in equal measure. It unfolds a stark, harsh narrative amidst the backdrop of a stunning locale in which unflinching content and the dire realities of life under these conditions, particularly in regards to garnering food by way of killing animals, is given as much focus as the characters themselves. The film's opinion of sex as an item, or event, that destroys and tears apart is reinforced when two people move closer by way of making-love, although it destroys someone else's link to both of them and also when a hideous realisation is made during an additional sex scene. While unfortunately denied of a universally wider release, and consequently more exposure, Far North is a frightening film that taps into the human mind and exposes its raw state of existence, and how ugly it can turn, by way of sin.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I thought that Far North really reflected traits that all humans hold,
however deeply we may bury them. Greed, survival and the need to be
When Saiva, Michelle Yeoh, was born her tribe shaman told her mother that she would grow to be evil and that everyone close to her would die. So as soon as she is old enough she is banished to travel and live alone. But she soon meets a tribe when they are rounding up the caribou and she becomes close to one man in particular.
Then the Russians invade their land and she comes back from a short trip to discover soldiers have killed the whole tribe, except her man friend and a baby. They are still there, though, and they rape her after slitting the man's throat. She escapes with the baby, though we are never sure whether it is her daughter or someone else's. We cannot be sure of the time frame in these flashbacks, as Kapadia has left this open to interpretation.
I'm not sure whether this is good or bad, good in the sense that spectators can defend Saiva's actions at the end if they so wish or bad because it requires less effort to speculate on facts rather than assumptions.
The ending itself is truly disturbing, it kept me thinking and reflecting for days on end. 'Disturbing' was the word I used to describe it to others, quickly adding that this was a good film. I did enjoy it; the scenery itself was almost overwhelmingly beautiful and was matched in its beauty by the cinematography. The performance from Yeoh was lovely to watch, and in my opinion her character was easy to make an allegiance with, as I could understand her reasons for doing what she did at the end.
Her performance was strongly supported by Michelle Krusiec and Sean Bean, although it could perhaps be said that Krusiec made her character a bit too ahead of her time. And judging by the ending for Mr. Bean, I think I can safely assume that he'll be staying in climates above 0 degrees Celsius for quite sometime...wearing as many layers as possible.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For those of you who missed it, and that appears to be most who posted
on here, the film is essentially a allegorical tale (ie a metaphor that
appeals to the imagination rather than reason).
In this film we are treading the difficult path of archetypes, mixed with shamanism from a pan-cultural Arctic perspective. Savia is the Exile, cursed from birth to bring destruction to those around her, she is also the Witch who once spurned by the fleeing near-dead Adventurer exacts revenge on her Ward by stealing her face to entice and deceive her spurning Lover. In a sense Bean's Loki pays the price for choosing the physical beauty and youth of Krusiec's Anja over gratitude to his Saviour Saiva (who by the way when he asks 'How can I repay you? Savia replies 'We shall see' implying she sees he has the debt of his life owing to her);
An interesting addendum to this is that 'Loki' is the Scandinavian Trickster or Fool (much as he appears at the beginning of the film carrying his belongings this time on a sledge). Unlike the wise Fool who pays his debt however he takes the path of the real Fool and spurns the one who saves him. For this both have then to pay the price.
Beautifully shot and directed, in lengthening the story it resembles many folk-tales of many cultures.
In an indefinite time somewhere in the Arctic with Soviet soldiers, the
nomads Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) and her stepdaughter Anja (Michelle
Krusiec) are permanently moving seeking a safe place in the arctic
tundra. They camp in a remote area far north where Saiva believes they
will be safe and survive fishing and hunting reindeer and small
animals. Their lives change when Saiva finds Loki (Sean Bean), a frozen
stranger that is dying in the ice. Saiva brings him to their tent and
recalls when she met her boyfriend and his tribe; how soviet soldiers
have slaughtered them and raped her; and how she rescued Anja and
killed the aggressors. When Loki is recovered, he and Anja fall in love
with each other, affecting her relationship with Anja.
The independent "Far North" is a disturbing and frightening movie about curse and love. The story is open regarding the location and time, but is an excellent study of solitude and human behavior. The landscapes and locations in Svalbard are wonderfully shot and the performances are top notch. The unexpected conclusion is scary. The "Making Of" on the DVD is a must-see. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): Not Available
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Commenter dave-1827 has it right. The brutally sudden transition at the
end, when Saiva apparently ceases to be the damaged but recognizably
human personality she has been for the previous 85 minutes and suddenly
becomes an automated machine of mythic destruction, simply does not
work: the transition does not add an interesting twist, or take the
story onto another level, it's simply a noisy and inept crashing of
narrative gears, that becomes more irritating the more I think about
it. The character Saiva, as beautifully portrayed by Michelle Yeoh in
the main, "realistic" body of the film, could simply never perform the
actions the story gives her at the end out of such a banal motive as
sexual jealousy -- the only plausible motivation she is given. The
person who struggled to shake off the "curse" her tribe had hung around
her neck would not suddenly embrace it to this ridiculous extent.
So are we meant to "read back" this mythic take into the rest of the, at first glance realistic, story? If so, the setting is a problem: The clothing and speech seem to indicate a Siberian setting. Does it become "mythic" because a couple of the Chukchi reindeer herders appear, inexplicably, to hail from Mumbai rather than Chukotka? Not really -- it just looks ridiculous. The rifles are plainly later 20th century; the outboard motor suggests a date sometime after 1960; and the wind-up radio places it after 1996 (Trevor Baylis invented the idea in 1989; Baygen produced the first commercial models in 1996). So what war were Russian soldiers fighting in Siberia after 1996? Sorry, but you can't have it both ways: if you put your story in such a distinctly real place and such a recent time, you can't expect people to accept it as a mythic anytime or a fictitious anywhere. Kapadia's earlier film "Warrior" was similarly set in a location and period that couldn't quite be pinned down, but that didn't present a problem because the period in question was at least several centuries safely in the past. He should have remembered that example this time round, or for a similar idea in an Arctic setting he should have looked at Nils Gaup's wonderful, and *consistently* mythic, "Ofelas" ("Pathfinder", 1987, not the dreadful 2007 remake). The reviewer for "Variety" hit the nail on the head: the climax of "Far North" requires a "suspension of disbelief the pic doesn't earn".
I'm giving this film 6 stars simply in recognition of two wonderful performances, from Michelle Yeoh and Sean Bean, who both portray the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of real human beings in what they must have assumed was intended to be a realistic setting.
What the film demonstrates, surprisingly, is that mythic archetypes do not actually provide much insight into human psychology -- they were simply the best adumbrations of human types that pre-literate societies could come up with. Anyone who's read a novel by George Eliot or Hermann Hesse or Hardy or Mann has access to far richer, truer, more complex and more convincing portrayals of human personalities than were available to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, or anyone else. It's three dimensions instead of one, colour instead of black and white.
Something I set to record more on the basis of its setting than
anything else, Far North is something of which I'd never heard, nor
indeed would have by anything other than chance. Chance was in my
favour however, thrusting me and this little production together.
Saiva and Anja are two women, the former the adoptive mother of the latter, living an isolated life away from the community from which they originally came, Saiva alleged at birth by a shaman to be cursed. Their lives are interrupted when a wounded soldier stumbles into their camp, affecting the routine of their days.
The tundra-central settingthe primary motivation for my opting to devote recording space to this filmis the first thing about Far North to attract our attention. The vast whiteness of this unoccupied land is explored beautifully through the usage of wide angle lenses, a sweeping opening shot, and the sole spot of blackness that is the yurt of our protagonist duo. Theirs is a quiet relationship, the intimacy they share communicated through the slightest of gestures rather than expository dialogue. The film is impressively silent, much of its running time featuring no sounds other than the constant bitter wind which pervades the soundtrack. The combination of image and sound in the film is meditative, such beautiful images as the Aurora Borealis, the great snowy mountains, and the rolling hills so covered in impenetrable whiteness that it is hard not to be lost in their banal perfection entirely unforgettable. Largely a three-hander, the film's performances are the tent-poles which support it, the particularly commendable quietness of Michelle Yeoh lending a dignified tragedy to her character. The relationships form the film's centrepiece, the evolution of these over the course of the narrative compelling and unpredictable. Twist is an inaccurate word to apply to a film of this sort, but it stores a number of surprises up its sleeve, the particular paths taken towards its denouement rather unconventional and, often, shocking. It is an emotional film, structured masterfully around these three characters and reinforced fantastically with splendid cinematography. The cold whites and blues of the arctic are contrasted wonderfully with the warm yellows and oranges of Saiva's flashback to times when she was with her community: when she had love, friendship, and hope. It is difficult not to be saddened by the melancholy the film presents, punctuated though it is by moments of silent beauty.
An entrancing spectacle, Far North offers the very best of the fine combination one can craft with cinematography and setting. Expressing itself slowly and almost silently, it is a film that relies on artistic expression rather than speech; on the strength of its performances rather than action. Added to unquestionably by its wonderful score, it is a highpoint of modern independent cinema.
In an unspecified land of tundra and ice, a mother and daughter,
estranged from their tribes-people, alone and on the run from a brutal
hired army, are struggling to survive in this harsh, desolate
landscape. Into their lives walks an escaped press-ganged soldier,
barely alive, and a tragic chain of events is set in motion.
London born film-maker Asif Kapadia knows how to capture isolation. He finds it in the sombre monochrome landscapes of this Arctic tale, and equally in the eyes of his lead actress, Michelle Yeoh. She plays Saiva, a woman who has borne a curse since birth foretelling that she will bring misfortune upon anyone who gets close to her. Forced out of her tribe, she lives nomadically, with only her grown-up daughter for company. Theirs is a never ending routine of hand-to-mouth survival and constant relocation to ever more lonely shores. The films' establishing shots of expansive ice flows are set to a soundtrack of groaning, creaking tension and cracks beneath the surface. Once Sean Bean's on- the-run Soldier arrives to upset the balance of their simple existence, it soon becomes apparent that Saiva shares much in common with the ice pack surrounding her.
So effectively does Asif conjure the quiet, contemplative mood and pace of much Scandinavian or Russian cinema that it comes as quite a shock when the main trio of characters open their mouths (which they do only rarely) and talk in English. The point is that it does not matter what language they speak, as the location and even the precise period of this story is kept deliberately vague. Just as it matters not what strange language it is that the other invading soldiers speak to themselves, only that it is not familiar. They are the aliens here.
For much of its short running time not a lot seems to be happening here, but there is not a wasted moment or unnecessary scene. Judicious use of flashbacks provide insight into the moments that have forged Saiva's tough and ruthless survival instincts. While in the present, much is communicated in silence by the glances of desire and jealousy that the trio exchange. Sean Bean comfortably inhabits the role of decent but morally weak man, but it's Michelle Yeoh's steely, haunted central performance that grabs and pulls you in. Like some Merchant-Ivory period drama stripped of all its airs and finery, we are in a world of suppressed emotions and mounting tensions. The palpable sense that something has to give is the overriding drive towards the startling climax.
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