In 1922, audiences were unaware of the creative potential cinema held. That year, Robert J Flaherty released Nanook of the North, he followed the lives and rituals of the indigenous people of Northern Canada, meticulously documenting their culture to display it to people, this was before documentary film was even created. Needless to say, his work helped elevate cinema to the art form it is today.
Nearly 100 years later, director Milko Lazarov pays tribute with a stunning, breathtaking pilgrimage of his own. Ága focuses on reindeer hunter Nanook and his wife Sedna somewhere in the icy tundra of the north. The film follows their daily rituals as they carve out a meagre existence in this inhospitable terrain. Every morning, Nanook ventures out with his one husky to ice fish for dinner while Sedna prepares food and tends to their hut.
Time is fluid in Ága; we slow down our perception, to accompany their pace. Furthermore, it is uncertain when the film takes place. If it weren’t for the final venture into civilisation and occasional references to “the city” it would be safe to say Ága could take place at any point in the last 1,000 years. At times, the camera is the only modern element in the scene but never intrudes on this constructed reality.
What keeps Lazarov’s feature engaging is the alluring cinematography that captures the scope of the white landscapes as well as the beautiful domestic life Nanook and Sedna share. Their tools and furniture possess a magical quality, timeless and exquisitely crafted. The chemistry the elderly couple share is touching, their dialogue is laconic and functional at times but through their co-dependence and the mystical stories they tell, their untainted love for each other is evident.
Nanook is haunted by bad omens: ravens circling above, a scarcity of prey, a mysterious disease that is killing off animals in the environment. The story takes a tragic turn when Sedna passes after hiding that she was affected by the same disease. This devastating loss sends Nanook out into civilisation to find his daughter. Ága excels in the tension between Nanook and his way of life, so harmonious with nature, and the corrupt society that is only focused on pillaging the earth.
Ága is an elegant cinematic experience that transports the audience to another time, to an atavistic way of life. The mystifying climax is both heart-wrenching and head-scratching.
Ága does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Ága here: