Jack London’s character in “To Build A Fire” could learn a thing or two from the red-jacketed protagonist, Overgård ( Mads Mikkelsen). Methodical, thoughtful, resourceful, and strongly rugged, the sole speaking character of “ Arctic” exudes competence and caring. Mikkelsen, a handsome Dane, was trained as a dancer; and, his stance and movement even when pulling a comatose body on a sled is easy to watch. Step, slide, pull. He also exudes competence, even when his eyes occasionally reflect despair.
“Arctic” begins with the sounds of scrapping ice. We see a three-hundred foot S.O.S. being carved out of the snow and scree and witness a panoramic view of white wilderness. A prop plane with a broken wing houses our survivalist. He has a unique system for ice fishing that keeps him sustained. One of the more tender moments has him holding his catch in the palms of his hands in almost benediction.
Loneliness is a sub-theme as one would expect. A rather monotonous routine of walking to a rise and hand-cranking a distress signal leaves our pilot returning to a polar-bear-smashed container of frozen-fish larder and fresh fears. We note Mikkelson’s chiseled cheek bones as he fillets and eats raw trout in white expanses of varying shades.
In his directional debut Brazilian U-Tube sensation, Joe Penna, keeps the lonely pace interesting. Shadows and declivities focus and recede. Punishing, driving snow and cold become a force of nature to be part of rather than conquered.
Shot in Iceland, his film “ Arctic”, gives us not quite fifty types of snow and ice formations, but enough for us to distinguish otherwise dream-like sequences of white on white. At one point a clump of purple saxifrage catches our rescuer’s eye. He knows that this vegetation often grows above melting ice, but he falls into a large cavern before he can adjust his path. Could this be another polar bear den? Waiting for the wild things to emerge after hearing the growls is heart-arresting~ plus, one of the best bear pawing, mouth-snarling polars I have seen.
Sounds are magnified in the stillness. The zip of a sleeping bag, majestic snow thunder, and the soft “ hello” after the first helicopter rescuers are downed ( we presume because of the same harsh conditions encountered by his own plane) add to the feeling of isolation. The sound of sliding metal offers up one dead body and a gravely injured co-pilot. A fresh map, flares, noodles, and rice cakes are appreciated staples. The cigarette lighter and the small one burner stove is a reason to celebrate.
Even breathing take on a more exaggerated rhythmic sound, as a woman’s wound is stapled and a man is hastily buried under a salvaged helicopter door. Respect for life and human connection are underlined in the few snippets of dialogue offered. “ You are not alone” is meant to bring warmth and hope. A photo of the feverish and near comatose woman’s husband and child is meant to push her desire to live. Film goers learn of the character of Overgård by induction. The conclusion being that this is a man well-worth watching. More than man against nature, this is man with nature.