AGA. Bulgaria, 2018. Starring Mikhail Aprosimov, Feodosius Ivanova, Sergei Egorov. Directed by Milko Lazarov. 95 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes)
Back in 1922, veteran documentary filmmaker, Robert Flaherty a pioneer in this kind of documentary, went to the Arctic and made the classic, Nanook of the North. This documentary, almost 100 years later, pays tribute to the classic by naming its central character, Nanook.
This time the location is in Arctic Russia, the snowclad open steppes, the high rock outcrops, some sparse vegetation. This is a world away from most audiences.
The special appeal of this documentary will be to those who like those studies which might be described as anthropological. The filmmakers go into what is a remote area for most of us, present us with extraordinary visuals, the range of seasons and their effect, the survival activities for food and shelter, the tent living quarters and the interiors, the boring of holes in the ice for fishing, the sightings of the reindeer. Again, audiences will relish the time spent in the surroundings but they will also be warming to the two central characters, now elderly, their children having gone to the cities or to industries beyond the steppes.
Nanook is ageing, a bulky man, with his sled and faithful hound, travelling the snow and ice, fishing, often without success, looking for the reindeer. His wife, Sedna, cooks, sews, mends, reminisces with her husband about the old days, about their children, relatives. They love each other, good company for each other. At one moment, we Sedna preparing a salve and revealing an unhealthy growth on her body which will have dire consequences.
In the latter part of the film, Nanook goes to visit his daughter who works in a diamond mine kilometres away. He gets a lift with a very chubby, genially heavy, log driver, quite a long drive by day and night, encountering the Russian guards with their demands for documents, but who also give advice about the weather and conditions on the strength and weaknesses of the ice.
By the end, we have left the steps behind and see the vastness of the mine, the huge cavity in the earth, industrial smoke, the huge vehicles, the overview of the town surrounding the mine – and the realisation that the isolated past is receding more and more into the past and here is an image of the future.
Madman Released May 9th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.