… There is much to admire in Lovers of the Arctic Circle. Its writer/director, Julio Medem has a fresh and original viewpoint and virtually floods the screen with ideas. His film looks not quite like anyone else’s, although, please, auteurs, can we stop with the titled sections of film now? That device is has been overused of late and seems either artsy-gimmicky or an admission by the director that he doesn’t know how to bring continuity to his film. This is film, not a book with chapter headings.
We follow the lovers from childhood through pubescent adolescence into adulthood. At all three ages they are attractive and appealing characters and at all three ages they are played by attractive and appealing actors. And, yes, it is a girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl finds boy again story, but not, let me assure you, as it has ever been done before. Our director wants, ever so seriously, for us to see patterns and symbols and interrelationships. Our lovers names, Ana and Otto, are palindromes. In case we hadn’t noticed, we are told so on screen at least twice. Palindromes have a circularity, and circles – Arctic Circle, the circle of fate, etc. etc. – are of concern to Mr. Medem.
When we are given scenes of lovers connecting or family goings on, there is wonderful passion and a sort of hard edged realism/surrealism to Medem’s view. Parents fall out of love and separate. New alliances form. A mother’s death pushes a son into deep mourning. Almost in spite of himself, Medem allows a story about real people to emerge from the literary overkill. The excellent performances help.
But for this viewer, a good story was smothered by the intrusive literary bent of the director. The incest themes – girl sees father in boy, girl and boy as brother/sister, but not. The repeated incidents of running, running out of gas, auto and plane accidents. The coincidences of fate, carried over three generations. Storms for passion, wind for anguish. Lines like: "It has to be cold in winter so you can appreciate the spring." And all of it at an almost unrelieved level of intensity.
In a better film, the patterns, the circles, the parallels and juxtapositions would emerge out of the human story and we, as viewers, would discover them through the unfolding of the tale. But Medem superimposes his patterns with a heavy handon top of the story and then feels he has to underline, italicize, and CAPITALIZE to make sure we don’t miss his conceits.
There is a wonderful time lapse shot of the midnight sun, the sun that never sets, making itsnever ending circle around the horizon. Since we are dealing with a lack of editing discipline here, of course, the shot is repeated. Because it naturally coincides with the location and theme of the film, that shot alone would have stood beautifully (just once please) in a film of more restraint.
Medem will make a great film one day, methinks. Fortunately he is only 40 and has time to learn some subtlety.