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.
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