Far North

Far North


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

In 2001 British director Asif Kapadia's feature debut The Warrior garnered him just praise for his able story telling and for eliciting moving performances from his cast whilst capturing stunning Indian scenery. He followed this up last year in the States with The Return starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It couldn't have been more different, or disappointing. Thankfully, Far North looks and feels like the film we were hoping for last time around.

In fact, it is. It's just taken Kapadia more than four years to realise his vision so I guess he had to do something to pay the bills in the meantime. He has again teamed with Tim Miller (The Warrior co-writer) to develop a Spartan screenplay, based on a short story by Sarah Maitland, which charms with its simple folklore inflections and disturbs with its dark humanity.

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Michelle Yeoh is Saiva, a nomadic woman wandering the truly desolate icescapes of the Arctic tundra. Her sole companion is the younger Anja, played by Michelle Krusiec. Together they have forged a harsh hand-to-mouth existence, on the move with their huskies, avoiding others, battling the cold, hunting for food. They’re close and comfortable with each other’s mostly wordless company; Anja is resilient and perky, Saiva a determined maternal protector.

One day a figure, a man, played by Sean Bean, staggers over the barren horizon and finally collapses at Saiva’s feet. His name is Loki. With much consternation Saiva takes him back to their animal-skinned camp where his mere presence instantly and seismically changes the women’s closed daily living. His name is deliberately apt, taken from a god of Norse mythology known for unbalancing the nature of things. Inevitably, tensions mount as their new relationships see brute human psychology tentatively unfurl from within all three.

Kapadia has described the film as a dark fairy story rather than a straight narrative. Indeed, when the final act comes it is both chest-freezingly shocking and entirely apposite with the three-handed Greek tragedy that he has steadily developed from the first opening sequences. It is an unsettling, captivating conclusion.

Everyone delivers persuasive performances, considering the environmental conditions and that they’re working with characters that are drawn as intentionally illustrative as they are human. If anything, Bean is the weakest and least evolved because of this (although he’s still far better than in his execrable The Hitcher) and while Krusiec is consistently reliable Yeoh, frankly, excels. Her portrayal of Saiva as both seasoned survivor and conflicted victim brings the full tragic portent of her flash-backed past straight into her present actions and wavering gaze, transfixing throughout.

Equally spellbinding is the epic polar scenery, beautifully rendered by cinematographer Roman Osin. Mountainous, awesome and utterly punishing, Far North is best seen on the big screen to appreciate in full the world the characters live in - and Kapadia’s sizeable achievement in capturing and so poignantly weaving it to his characters’ story. It is a far more welcome return for the director.

An absorbing, disturbing and exceptionally composed filmic fable.

Reviewed on: 31 Oct 2007
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A stranger enters the world of two isolated, nomadic women.
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Director: Asif Kapadia

Writer: Asif Kapadia, Tim Miller

Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Krusiec, Sean Bean, Gary Pillai

Year: 2007

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: UK

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