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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
In a yurt on the snow-covered tundra of the North, Nanook and Sedna live following the traditions of their ancestors. Alone in the wilderness with their one sled dog, they look like the last people on Earth. Their traditional way of life starts changing - slowly, but inevitably. Spring is coming earlier than usual, ice fishing is no longer bountiful, and aeroplane exhaust trails cross the sky with ever-increasing frequency. Sedna’s also noticing that Nanook is beginning to forget things, whereas he fails to notice the dark patch on her side that’s giving her so much pain.
There’s not another soul anywhere nearby, which makes the occasional visits of Chena their one lifeline to the outside world. Together with wood and fuel, he brings news of their daughter Ága who works at a diamond mine in a distant town. Some time ago, she did something that Nanook found unforgivable, and they’ve been estranged ever since.
Filmed in the Russian republic of Sakha, famed for having the northern hemisphere’s coldest climate, the film captures the timelessness of a lifestyle that ironically has reached the end of its time. Lazarov never ceases to amaze, not least when he reveals the diamond mine as a mirror of Nanook’s fishing hole, magnified to the size of a giant crater, with a town hanging on its lip – a grim view of the dehumanisation that comes with industry.
The screenplay’s simplicity is enriched by memorable images whose stillness adds to the overall perception of a period coming to an end. Composer Penka Kouneva’s beautiful score adds to the sense of majesty and loss.