Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998)
Directed by Julio Médem
Friday, July 13 at the Spectacle Theater's "Julio Médem's 90s"
The purist repertory programmers will only screen a film in its original format, and thank God for them. Yet there's another, perhaps even more valuable kind of programming, dating back to the inception of the amateur film club, that shows its movies any way within its means. What the digital projection of the Spectacle Theater loses in image quality, it gains in access to a wide array of rare work hard to see publicly otherwise. The difference between a public theater and a home theater matters, regardless of film format. When you watch a download on your laptop or a Blu-Ray in your living room you're still open to distraction, still comfortably within yourself. In the silence of a dark room before a high screen with others, though, you and they submit to something bigger than yourselves.
For a film like Lovers of the Arctic Circle, the difference is key, because it's a movie you need to feel enveloped within to enjoy. It tracks a life-long love through the shifting perspectives of stepsiblings named Otto and Ana (each played by several actors as they grow from kids to wasteland-age adults), both named palindromes, appropriate for people in a state of mutual eternal arrest. For her he's her dead father reincarnated, the living sum of divine coincidence; for him she contains all the answers to the mysteries of women, and he carries her folded love note through his lonely nights inside the cockpit of the air mail plane he flies. They separate, and dream of returning to each other. Someday, they say, their dreams will meet near the Arctic Circle in Finland, a place where the sun doesn't set.
As Ana weeps holding the red heart Otto once bought her, the film might seem ridiculous. It is, but seems less so as you imagine your own heart stopping when another person reads your thoughts. The Spanish Médem, like several similarly delirious French filmmakers (Truffaut, Resnais, Carax, and Gondry included), tells a boy-meets-girl tale as a metaphor for love affairs with the movies. All the tricks and shifts inside Lovers—'Scope close-ups and shaky movements, startling cuts to flashbacks or flash-forwards, extreme music cues—come with the changing visions that Otto and Ana gain of each other, and with all the different ways they see themselves inside the screens of each other's eyes.