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Have you ever been emotionally snowblind? Drama set in the icy vastness of the tundra relies on sparse verbal communication and jaw-dropping visuals in order to convey a profound sense of isolation and impending death - live from the Berlinale


You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a documentary. Ága goes so deep into the lives of reindeer herder Nanook and his wife Sedna that you will be surprised to find out that they are played by actors Mikhail Aprosimov and Feodosia Ivanova. The elderly couple dwells in a very primitive tent somewhere extremely icy and remote with their loyal husky, and they speak a language never identified in the movie.

Every single frame in Ága is an art piece in itself. The quality of the images is superb, the colours and the details are literally jaw-dropping. The ability to photograph ice and snow is remarkable. The movie starts the image of the white tundra blending seamlessly into the foggy sky. You will experience snow blindness for a few moments. Next you will be invited into Nanook’s and Sedna’s house, which is dark and cosy, lined with animal leather and fur. There are few tools and bare essentials for their survival lying around, and nothing else. Killing animals is an integral part of their lives, as they rely on their meat for nourishment and their hide for insulation.

The sound engineering is also spectacular. You will hear the knife cutting through the fish, the drill breaking through the ice, the wind blowing and the dog whining with astounding clarity. Plus Mahler’s 5th symphony gives the film a gentle and soothing touch.

The plot is extremely simple. Nanook and Sedna have a daughter called Ága who left in order to work in a mine. Sedna longs for her, but her husband refuses to talk about the subject, presumably holding a major grudge. Instead they talk about their mundane yet arduous life, as well as their dreams. Sedna is very ill with a major wound in her belly, to which she applies ointment apparently to no avail. She’s dying, it seems. Should she see her daughter one final time before she meets her maker? And what will happen to her husband if she passes away? Will he be able to fend for himself in almost complete isolation, alone with the husky?

This is an almost entirely laconic and sensory film, yet never tedious. Verbal communication is sparse, yet there’s no shortage of palpable sentiments. The images are factual (they are not dream sequences), yet teeming with poetry. The vastness of the tundra is breathtaking, the ice roads never-ending, and the depth of the mining site borderline unfathomable. Likewise the emotional depth of the candid story. Plus you’re in for an orgasmic visual feast in the end of the film, with an aerial shot unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

It will come as a surprise to many that this is a German-Bulgarian movie spoken in Yakutian, and filmed somewhere in the Sakha Republic (in East Siberia, not too far from Alaska). The director is Bulgarian, and the music is performed by the Orchestra of Sofia. A singular piece of filmmaking. Ága is part of the official selection of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival taking place right now, but it’s running out of competition.

By Victor Fraga - 22-02-2018

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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