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The Lovers of the Arctic Circle

Drama or Bust

By Francisco J. DeLaTorre

Written and directed by Julio Medem

With Nawja Nimri and Fele Martinez

There’s a fine line between good and bad melodrama. On one hand, you have a rich and poignant look at human nature, and on the other you have a blubbering piece of tear-stained fluff. I happen to be of the opinion that most melodramas fall under the latter category: the “powerful, emotional, intense” weepy-weepy feel-sorry-for-the-love-starved-heroes kind. But I’ve seen my fair share of quality melodramas. So this is my tip of the day: if you’re going to do melodrama, do it right. The Lovers of the Arctic Circle walks the line, jumping from well-done to over-the-top and back again, and where it lies on the melodrama scale is ultimately a matter of opinion.

There are these two kids, Otto and Ana, who are fascinated by each other as children. A startling coincidence and a fair amount of luck bring their single parents together. As their parents fall in love, so do the children, growing closer and closer through adulthood. They encounter, as is the norm in melodrama, numerous trials and tribulations. These include death in the family, love affairs, and the ever-present challenge of keeping their relationship a secret; they know that though they can convince themselves that their love is not incestuous, they can’t convince anyone else (they are, by marriage, if not by blood, siblings).

The subtext of this film is given as much emphasis as the main love story, and it centers upon the role played in our lives by coincidence and circular circumstance. This is set up right at the beginning, when Otto states that every life should include numerous circles. Indeed, the entire film is a series of circles embedded in circles embedded in circles, bound together by a tight, intricate web of coincidence, and these circles exist not only in physical space (the Arctic Circle), but also in sequences of events. The character names are palindromic (Ana, Otto). Otto is named after a German pilot his grandfather saved during World War II, and then himself becomes a pilot. His stepmother cheats on his father, Alvaro, with another man named Alvaro, whose father is the German pilot for whom Otto is named. The German pilot rents out space in the Arctic Circle to Ana. I presume this motif could have worked much better had the audience not been bludgeoned with it; it is an interesting concept, but considering that the examples cited above constitute less than half of those that exist in the film, it seems that the filmmakers were condescending to the audience.

I would have liked to see more emphasis placed on the validity of Otto and Ana’s relationship. Clearly, the ambiguity of their siblinghood creates a very interesting sexual dilemma. Some of the most impressive and satisfying scenes are those that deal with their odd relations. Unfortunately, the film only scratches the surface here, leaving us waiting for more.

The organization of the film is interesting, switching back and forth between Otto’s and Ana’s recollections, and suddenly changing to reflect more objective points of view. Other aspects of editing, however, such as short flashbacks and changes of perspective, are slightly confusing and unsettling.

The Lovers of the Arctic Circle plays with you. It capitalizes on your expectations and predictions, and changes into something completely different. It takes your desire to see everything turn out okay and dangles it in front of you, taunting you with near misses and sad mistakes, and to its credit, this works quite well.

This movie has a lot of potential. It has some interesting ideas, but, unfortunately, they are weighted down by the draining conventions of melodrama. I said before that there’s a fine line between good and bad melodrama. Perhaps that’s not quite true. Perhaps there’s only bad melodrama, and good melodrama is really drama. In either case, The Lovers of the Arctic Circle is right in between, oscillating from drama to melodrama to drama and so on, but never fully belonging to either one.