Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Amantes del Círculo Polar, Los)

Lovers of the Arctic Circle is a handsomely constructed fable of love
and destiny, written and directed by Julio Medem. Those with a taste for magic
realism or the sunny po-mo fables of Jaco Van Dormael (Toto the Hero, The
Eighth Day
) may well enjoy it, though to my taste its weird Spanish
romanticism and gorgeous artificiality are cinematic oat bran at best. The movie
is the post-modern version of the saga of star-crossed love, just as Raiders
of the Lost Arc
is the post modern version of the action thriller or L.A.
the post-modern version of cinéma noir. If this
recommends it to you, you are welcome to it.

The story presents us with the heroic-tragic-perverted love of two
step-siblings, Otto and Ana (Fele Martinez and Najwa Nimri as adults, Victor
Hugo Oliveira and Kristel Díaz as teenagers). When they are still
children, Otto’s divorced father,
Alvaro (Nancho Novo) marries Ana’s
widowed mother, Olga (Maru Valdivielso), an event which seems to them the first
of many fateful coincidences, since they have already taken an interest in each
other. Various signs taken by Ana as portents (among them the fact that both
have got palindromic names), suggest to her that
“my father had gone to live in a boy
my age”—namely
Otto—and that, though
“Otto spoke on the outside, my father
spoke on the inside.”

For both better and worse, Medem has not the slightest interest in what would
be, in real life, the baroque psychic tangle of a grief-stricken girl who
fantasizes that her dead father’s
spirit inhabits the body of her step-brother and later, as a teenager, begins an
affair with him under her mother and
step-father’s noses. Otto on his side
is equally screwed up, to use the clinical term. As persuaded as Ana that their
love is somehow fated, he leaves his
mother’s house to go live with his
father and stepmother in order the better to meet secretly with Ana while the
grownups are sleeping. His mother, left alone, commits suicide, and he is
hideously racked with guilt. After a suicide attempt of his own, he decides that
he must leave home. “Having left Ana,
I’d lost my destiny, so I had to make
one up.”

For reasons too complicated to explain but having to do with the legend of
Otto’s namesake, a German pilot shot
down during the Spanish Civil War and rescued by his grandfather,
Otto’s invented destiny is to become a
pilot (Otto le piloto in Spanish) in remote Finland, above the Arctic
Circle. Both lovers continue to believe that their destinies are linked,
however, and so the Arctic Circle is also figured in. Whether because of
Otto’s undying guilt or, more likely,
just because it makes for a better story
(that’s the post-modernism kicking
in), Otto doesn’t do the obvious thing
and look Ana up to see if they still click the next time he comes home on leave
to Spain. Instead, like the children of the stars they fancy themselves as
being, they rely on fate and coincidence to bring them together again under the
midnight sun.

Just in case my summary has made this movie sound so enticing that you cannot
resist going to see it for yourselves, I will not reveal whether or not the
lovers are reunited by the picturesque Finnish lake where Ana waits hopefully
for “the coincidence of my
life” in a cabin owned, amazingly
enough, by the first Otto le piloto, the German one. Even more amazingly, she
discovers that the older Otto is her step-grandfather.
It’s all too much for Otto II, who
reckons that destiny requires him to bail out of his plane just like Otto I,
even though it is a perfectly good aircraft whose loss is likely to make his
employers rather cross.

They, like us, must suspend their disbelief—as critics used to say back
in the days when there was a lot less disbelief to
suspend—in order to experience the
thrill of watching destiny work itself out. Perhaps they will not find, as I do,
that destiny reduced to such a congeries of cinematic artifice has lost its
power to impress.

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