Far North (not far enough)

I’ve been looking forward to Far North (2007) for ages. When it first came out I bought tickets to the screening at the BFI Southbank with Asif Kapadia doing a Q& A afterwards.  I didn’t get to go in the end, which had made seeing the film, finally, a bit of an event. This afternoon,  with tasks already completed and dependents occupied, I sat down to watch the DVD.

All the reviews of the film talk of its epic landscape, which is indeed unusually exquisite. The exoticism and sparseness of the location is a metaphor for the loneliness of the characters and the bleakness of their situation. There is very little dialogue and a delicate understated soundtrack, which is wonderfully refreshing. I think that there is an over-reliance on speech in so many modern films and this one, thankfully, doesn’t fall into that category at all.

Michelle Yeoh is superb as the stoical and enduring Saiva. The extraordinarily beautiful Michelle Krusiec plays the trusting Anja who falls for Sean Bean’s Loki. The women’s journey, particularly that of Yeoh’s character is intriguing and draws you in. The film’s barren backdrop allows you to study and observe every physical movement, the aesthetic of each frame and the expressions of each character. 65 minutes into the film I was so intrigued and captivated by the ebb and flow of the on-screen relationships, which had hooked me and was slowly, excruciatingly unwinding, that when the final climactic event came its horror was appropriate, though troubling.

Then the film just ended – right there.

I was still blinking in shock, absorbing the narrative and the end credits were rolling. Hang on? I was perplexed: why did it stop dead like the plot of a short film – this wasn’t a feature film ending? Admittedly, I haven’t read Sara Maitland’s book, True North, upon which this film is based, so perhaps Kapadia and his co-writer Tim Miller were being true to that story. Personally, I wanted more on screen.

Far North is one of those films that I will probably ponder for a long time to come. It is an unusual piece of cinema in so many ways, so I hope that my dissatisfaction comes to pass. Watching the film has made me recognise that my own expectations were perhaps too elevated to give it a fair viewing. What would I have made of it had I seen it all those years ago? I’ve done this before: I saw The Piano (1993) and The Hurt Locker (2008) long after everyone had sung all the possible praises out of either film. Critical sycophancy is a pet abhorrence of mine – honesty gets lost in the quagmire of obsequiousness. Neither film stood a chance by the time I got to them, though, the main casualty on each occasion was my hope for a cinematic masterpiece. With the passing of time, I may yet revisit all three films and come to delight in the eloquence of each without the veneer of hyperbole of fawning critics and promulgations of an advertising campaign. I may always have a problem with the ending of Far North, but everything else about it I thoroughly enjoyed.

Who was it that said, “An audience will forgive you anything at the start of a movie, but nothing at the end,” – wise words?

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