Far North



Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- The lesson in Asif Kapadia's "Far North" is that when an independent and obviously resourceful woman from the tundra says that a shaman told her she would bring harm to anyone foolish enough to get close to her, it's wise to listen.

A vicious little tale of the icy outdoors, screened in the Venice Nights sidebar, "Far North" features Michelle Yeoh as Saiva, the arctic equivalent of a mountain woman, who takes no prisoners in her desire for solitude. What begins as a tale of survival, however, ends in a climax so shocking and unexpected that the film shouldn't be mistaken for a nice little outing in the snow.

It will take skillful marketing but there should be an audience for a film that so cleverly masks its intentions without betraying the monstrous turn it takes. Yeoh's sinuous performance as the feral survivor is also a major selling point and co-stars Sean Bean and Michelle Krusiec also are fine. Cinematographer Roman Osin takes full advantage of the extraordinary environment and of Ben Scott's blisteringly real production and costume designs. Composer Dario Marianelli conjures cues to match the haunting and threatening images.

Set in the northern reaches of Norway in a land that is almost timeless, the film begins with an act of cruelty rendered with utmost gentleness as Saiva sacrifices one of her dogs for its blood and meat. The only human she allows near her is Anja (Krusiec), a beautiful young woman she has raised since saving her life as an infant.

Their life in the beautiful but unforgiving landscape is a daily fight against the cold and hunger but Saiva is not without a sense of humor. The dog's meat is tough. "Maybe next time we'll try one of the younger ones," she says.

In search of food and safe harbor, the pair row their boat down river past towering snow-white mountains, passing an industrialized outpost populated by men with guns ordering prisoners about. Traversing wide bodies of water amid looming icebergs, they reach dry land and a place to camp.

There is a sense of threat not only from the climate but also from the heavy boots of unleashed military authority. All is well, however, until one day a man shows up near death. Loki (Sean Bean) is from a village far away fleeing rampaging soldiers, and to Anja's surprise, Saiva takes him in. It's not a good move.

Flashbacks reveal how Saiva suffered the shaman's curse and how she saved Anja, but nothing is learned about Loki except that he's a resourceful killer. Three is a crowd, however, even in the freezing cold, but screenwriters Kapadia and Tim Miller don't sweat the small stuff. Their film is after more horrifying prey.

Ingenious Film Partners, Film4, Celluloid Dreams
Produced by The Bureau
Director: Asif Kapadia
Screenwriters: Asif Kapadia, Tim Miller, based on the story "True North" by Sara Maitland
Producer: Bertrand Faivre
Executive producers: Tessa Ross, Christophe Vidal, Hengameh Panahi, Duncan Reid, Peter Touche
Director of photography: Roman Osin
Production designer: Ben Scott
Music: Dario Marianelli
Co-producers: Peter Borgli, Vincent Gadelle
Costumes: Ben Scott
Editor: Ewa J. Lind
Saiva: Michelle Yeoh
Anja: Michelle Krusiec
Loki: Sean Bean
Andrei, soldier: Per Egil Aske
Blondy, soldier: Jan Olav Dahl
Baldy, soldier: Espen Prestbakmo
Slim, soldier: Hakan Niva
Ivar: Gary Pillai
Shaman: Bjarne Osterud
Soldier 1 with boat: Tommy Siikavuopio
Soldier 2 with boat: Mark van de Weg
Ivar's father: Sven Henriksen
Ivar's mother: Neeru Agarwal
Running time -- 89 minutes
No MPAA rating