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Austin Chronicle Lovers of the Arctic Circle

By Marjorie Baumgarten

JUNE 21, 1999: 

D: Julio Medem; with Fele Martinez, Najwa Nimi, Nancho Novo, Maru Valdivielso, Peru Medem, Sara Vallente, Victor Hugo Oliveira, Kristel Diaz. (R, 112 min.)

Some narratives are straightforward and relate their characters' stories in a point-by-point fashion. Others tell their tales in more roundabout ways, using impressionistic strategies that poke holes in our ordinary assumptions about time, space, and logic. Lovers of the Arctic Circle works on an intuitive level, pulling us along with seductive lures appropriate to its grandly romantic underpinnings and, dare I say, circular progression. This Spanish film has more than a little in common with another recent Spanish film that played here not long ago: Open Your Eyes. Both films challenge our ordinary constructs of reality and encourage viewers to fill in the missing blanks. Lovers of the Arctic Circle tells the story of Otto and Ana from the time they meet at the age of eight to the age of 25, when they may or may not meet again. Both characters (as well as director Medem) have palindromic names: They are the same forward and backward. Here begins the story's long train of echoed images, fatalistic coincidences, and nonlinear reverberations. The love story moves forward through a series of dual tellings: An episode is seen each from Otto and Ana's separate perspectives, often with different outcomes (as is the case with the movie's final conclusion). The destinies of Ana and Otto first become entwined after the death of Ana's father and the separation of Otto's parents. Before long, Ana's mother and Otto's father also fall in love while the two teenagers make love under the same roof. More separations, more coincidences, and more haunting echoes -- and before long, we're in Finland. Lovers of the Arctic Circle is a work best experienced and felt, rather than described. It all sounds too hokey on paper. With great care, writer-director Medem has created a lovely work. There are images that stick in the mind with vivid detail, and there are refrains that haunt the mind with elusive come-hithers. I'm not sure what it amounts to in the end, but it reminds us of why each year could be last year at Marienbad.

3.5 stars

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