(director/writer: Milko Lazarov; screenwriter: Simeon Ventsislavov; cinematographer: Kaloyan Bozhilov; editor: Veselka Kiryakova; music: Penka Kouneva; cast: Mikhail Aprosimov (Nanook), Feodosia Ivanova (Sedna), Sergey Egorov (Chena), Galina Tikhonova (Aga), Afanasiy Kylaev (Truck driver); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Veselka Kiryakova; Big World Pictures; 2018-Bulgaria/Germany/France-in Yakut with English subtitles)
“An exceptional emotionally moving spiritual drama about an older Inuit couple trying to keep their traditional ways while dealing with isolation issues in the frozen tundra.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The visually pleasing survivalist wilderness film was shot in Yakutia, Russia. Though melancholy, for a good reason, it’s still an exceptional emotionally moving spiritual drama about an older Inuit couple trying to keep their traditional ways while dealing with isolation issues in the frozen tundra.
In his second feature, it’s Bulgarian writer/director Milko Lazarov (“Alienation”) going again to the snowy fields of the 1922 silent classic Nanook that was directed by Robert Flaherty to capture the oppressive desolation of the far North. This powerful fictional tale is co-written with sparse dialogue by Simeon Ventsislavov.
Nanook (Mikhail Asprosimov) and Sedna (Feodosia Ivanova) are a longtime elderly married couple who live a simple life in the frozen confines of northeastern Siberia, where they live alone without their native community (their reindeer-herding tribe no longer live there since the reindeer have become a vanishing breed, leaving them as the only surviving members of their tribe to remain). For survival they rely on Nanook’s ability to maintain their yurt as a viable shelter even in storms and rely on his skill to hunt, fish and trap animals for the food they need. Sedna in turn makes warm clothes for them out of the furs hubby brings home, nurses his aches and pains with an ointment, and gently comforts him from any anxieties as they peacefully lie together in bed.
Nanook and Sedna are happy when the wayward Chena (Sergei Egorov), a member of their tribe, every so often comes for a visit via snowmobile, bringing firewood and kerosene for their lamp. He is a recovering alcoholic who has moved to the city like all the other young tribe members. We learn from him that their daughter Aga (Galina Tikhonova) left them for unspecified reason over a dispute and remains estranged from them without any visits. Chena tells them that she works in a distant town at a diamond mine. Mom greatly misses Aga and has made a new fox fur hat for her like she did when she was little in the hope that would make her happy like it did when she was a child.
The third act has a reluctant Nanook going with a city-living native truck driver (Afanasiy Kylaev) on a long road trip to honor his dying wife’s request to give Aga the fur hat as a gift of love. The driver is closer in thought to the white man’s thinking than Nanook’s. It’s an eye-opening journey for Nanock going from his isolated primitive land to a bustling contemporary scene that will show how the newcomers under the guise of civilization are raping the land that the native population preserved for ages.
It’s a soulful elegy to a dying culture and a modern world facing an ecological crisis (like climate change) it can’t seem to handle in a rational way. It’s a film you can’t easily forget without feeling at least some remorse for the indigenous people who are in danger of extinction..
The excellent cast is comprised of all indigenous actors. The featured couple are both Sakha people and theater actors.
REVIEWED ON 2/26/2020 GRADE: A-