Lovers of the Arctic Circle / Los amantes del Circulo Polar
"Can you run back? A few hours back, a life back?"
Medem’s feature films (director and writer):
Cows / Vacas (1991)
Red Squirrel / La Ardilla Roja (1993)
Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998)
Sex and Lucia / Lucia y el Sexo (2002)
Medem’s five films have been greeted with critical acclaim within some circles, although even his latest films have failed to secure general release outside of Spain (Medem is Basque) and are often not so much as reviewed. This is not surprising, quite apart from the dominance of Hollywood product. Medem’s films eschew conventional plot development, with the ‘unreal’ often intruding, and the ‘end’ being undecided (Vacas, Lovers). The narratives are spliced, looped, variegated; sometimes a story-line literary disappears down a hole (Sex and Lucia); sometimes, a narrative ends where it began (Lovers); sometimes, images from distinct lines of plot interweave fugue-like (the speeding cars of Red Squirrel); every time, the screen teems with detail, motif and resonance. The films have ephemeral loci of perspective which compete (the sledge scene of Lovers, the dog attack in Sex and Lucia, the women of Tierra). Yet the ‘action’ is observed, framed - mutely, without sagacity or irony (the eponymous cows of Vacas, the unobserved squirrel of Red Squirrel, the rain-deer in Lovers). Medem’s films are cerebral then. They are also a unique joy, full of wit, romance, eroticism and intrigue. All of them are beautifully shot - there is simply not one uninteresting frame in Lovers. Medem also possesses a lightness of touch reminiscent of Buñnel. Comedy is part of Medem’s metaphysics.
So much said, it is tempting to see Medem’s work as post-modern, a reaction to the static interiority of the compositions of, say, Antonioni or Tarkovsky; a style predicated on a philosophy of the essential unity and separateness of consciousness. Such a contrast does hold, but things are not so simple. Medem’s art is not merely playful. Medem’s films are metaphysical parables, often on the nature of love, and the concomitant psychology of identity, necessity and contingency. For Medem, love is the interior escape from apparent objective contingency; that is, to be in love is to view the loved as internally related to one’s self, and thus inexplicable, primitive. (In a number of the films, including Lovers, this is contrasted with familial love.) Medem’s world remains brutally physical, contingent, coincidental. It is precisely through the points of accidental intersection, however, that the lovers feel themselves fated.
Medem is often compared to Kieslowski. Blue and The Double Life of Veronique certainly recapitulate Medems’s themes, and the work of both is, at its best, visually stunning. But whereas Kieslowski is pictorially overweening, always self-conscious of his effects, as we are obliged to ponder the stasis of the mise-en-scène or the petrified visage of Binochet, just as Antonioni had earlier invited us to look upon Vitti, Medem is all editing, one may say. Each scene is an eddy within a flow of currents, a point of harmony as melodies momentarily intersect.
Medem has much of Powell and Buñnel in him.
Some things to note
Lovers is constructed as a loop, with Otto and Anna - the two principal protagonists - telling the ‘same’ story as internal loops. Each story is a set of coincidences, events which have their doubles in the past and reflections in the present. The stories themselves coincide at the ‘end’, reflected in the loops of Anna’s eyes under the loop of the midnight sun.
Symmetry dominates, from palindromic names, to doubled names, to doubled events, to facing identical schools, to the interior of cars, to the death of a mother and the death of a father, to the camera tracking left-right, right-left,…
There are two central motifs in the film: fuel gauges indicating ‘empty’ and near-misses, involving cars and busses, people, trees, sledges, planes, etc. There a number of secondary motifs, involving rain-deer, notes, the bombing of Guernica, photographs, etc. There are many recurring images: eyes, windows, holes, lenses, reflections, etc.
There are a number of inconsistencies between Otto and Anna’s stories, most evident of which is the sledge-ride. They also arise in what people say, photographs, etc.
What is written on Otto’s paper airplane?
P.S. In 1996, Medem was invited by Speilberg to direct The Mask of Zoro. He declined.