(Yeoh) is cursed: all who love her, shes been told by a shaman, are doomed. So she ekes out a nomadic existence on Arctic plains, with only her daughter (Krusiec) and Huskies for company. Until, that is, escaped POW Loki (Bean) bursts into her life.
Asif Kapadia is one of the UK’s brightest talents, but also one of its quietest. When he made his debut in 2001 with epic Western-in-feudal-India The Warrior, a big Hollywood career seemingly beckoned. Then five years passed without a peep, before he returned with, er, The Return. It was a Hollywood horror. It starred Sarah Michelle Gellar. It bombed.
Unsurprising, then, to find Kapadia retreating back into the environs of ‘world cinema’ with Far North, and working again with The Warrior co-writer Tim Miller. Like his debut, it exemplifies Kapadia’s talent for casting vast landscapes onto a screen. We glide over melting ice floes, and shiver at the bleakness of gargantuan, wind-eroded mountainsides. ‘Cursed’ nomad Saiva’s (Michelle Yeoh) tent squats amid this unforgiving tundra like a tiny, slumped old man. Why, you wonder, would — or should — she be living like this?
To her credit, Yeoh doesn’t reduce Saiva down to an icy-masked enigma; we detect the swelling and subsiding of emotion through subtle trembles. It’s clear Saiva has a traumatic past, and we glimpse it through never-overused flashbacks. She also has a ruthless streak; as her daughter Anja (Michelle Krusiec) half-jokes to interloper Loki (Sean Bean), Saiva’s policy with finding people on the ice is to cut off their head first, then ask if they need help.
Loki’s arrival creates predictable tension, especially when both the women he finds are love-starved in their very different ways. Not only that, but Loki is a man on the run: could he bring the world Saiva shuns crashing through that weather-pumelled canvas after him? It’s interesting that Kapadia and Miller — adapting a short story by Sara Maitland — keep the nature of that world eerily vague. We don’t know what country we’re in, or precisely when: is this a post-apocalyptic future? The recent past? The deliberate uncertainty creates a misty atmosphere of dread.
Few answers are given. It’s a mood-piece more than anything, and Kapadia’s tactic is to draw us closer to Saiva, then shove us violently away with a final act that only deepens the mystery. Far North will leave you stinging, repelled, perhaps even irritated, but give it a chance: some things are best left to be puzzled over.
A beautifully shot, frosty Tale Of The Unexpected. Forget The Return: this is a Return To Form.