Mads Mikkelsen is stern machismo personified in Joe Penna’s Arctic, a punishing Sisyphean struggle across the icy tundra, with its insurmountable peaks and cavernous depths. This film is relentless drama and strife – and quite silly overall. It has similarities with Iñárritu’s The Revenant in as far as its dealings with malicious bears, comically arduous obstacles, recurrent setbacks and unblinking human despair.
We’re thrown straight into snow. A man (Mikkelsen) plunges his pitchfork in the ground, gradually forming a huge, desperate SOS. Barely any context is offered. We glimpse a plane wreckage. More wreckage will follow, loading our isolated hero with a young woman who is injured, a dead weight. This suggests a moral quandary – one often explored in extreme conditions and apocalyptic circumstances – but Mikkelsen’s character is laughably upstanding, considerate and self-sufficient. He’ll see it through to the end.
The embattled pair are mostly mute, the terms of their conversations dictated by language and health barriers. An alarm keeps the routine, the need for pattern greater in the bleak wilderness. Resourceful, primitive behaviour offers the possibility of survival. The man makes use of ad hoc bandages, filleted raw fish and a limited supply of flares. We anticipate the end, which they continue to defy. Their few words swing between apology and faint reassurance, his precision and attentiveness extending to hand-squeezing and an interest in the woman’s single memento.
This is an impressively coordinated work which eschews character development for set pieces that suggest a genuine threat. There are sentimental nudges, while Joseph Trapanese’s score never cowers from the strings. The final anguished, ironic moment is implausible, but in fairness, much of the film is a stretch. It should be enjoyed for the carefully managed tension and Mikkelsen’s forceful, rugged performance – even if it sometimes amuses.
Arctic does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Arctic here: