The Lovers of the Arctic Circle

Los Amantes del Círculo Polar
1998 / 112m - Spain
Mystery, Romance
Julio Medem
4.0*/5.0*
The Lovers of the Arctic Circle poster

I've come to a point in my almost decade-long journey of rewatches where many of my former favorites don't quite cut it anymore. It's been a long, long time since I last watched Julio Medem's The Lovers of the Arctic Circle [Los Amantes del Círculo Polar], so it's safe to say I wasn't entirely confident the film would still hold up after all this time. I'm happy to report these worries were completely unfounded. There's a base quality present that easily carries the film a quarter century after its initial release, and should keep its appeal shining for at least 25 more years to come.

screen capture of The Lovers of the Arctic Circle [Los Amantes del Círculo Polar]

That is not to say the film isn't a child of its time. There are elements there, especially in the way the plot is structured and is propelled forward by some very explicit coincidences, that firmly place it in the vicinity of the turn of the millennium. That's certainly not a bad thing in my book, but it's probably good to realize that you won't be getting a very realistic account of a tragic romance here. The Lovers of the Arctic Circle offers a more overall romantic and scripted take on the relationship between its two protagonists, akin to films like Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement.

Revisiting this film reminded me of the fact that you don't see too many movies like that anymore. It's not a secret that I like explicitly stylized cinema, and that I'm primarily interested in audiovisual experiences, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a purposefully crafted plot that puts its characters through the wringer. It may not be the absolute pinnacle of cinema for me, but it's certainly a pleasant bonus that has good potential to make a film better. Medem makes excellent use of the plot to do exactly that, and it's one of the reasons why this film still worked so well for me after all these years.

Ana and Otto are two young kids who ended up becoming brother and sister when their parents hooked up. Otto already had a thing for Ana, Ana believes her dead father is living inside of Otto. As they grow up together their bond becomes much stronger, so does the sexual tension between the two. They don't mind experimenting behind their parents' backs, but when Otto's mother commits suicide their relationship suddenly deteriorates. Otto moves out of the house and Ana goes her own way, though the two never truly forgot about the time they spent together.

screen capture of The Lovers of the Arctic Circle [Los Amantes del Círculo Polar]

Medem made a clear effort with the cinematography, which is always appreciated. It's not one of the best-looking films and there's a somewhat sullen color story going on that doesn't really suit the film, but the deliberate camera work, the structured framing, and the snappy editing do give the film the proper visual flair. Some brighter, sunnier colors could've breathed a little extra life into the romance, but we're stuck with a colder blue hue accentuating the tragedy that befalls the two protagonists. The film still looks well above average, so you won't hear me complain too much, but the potential was there to do even better.

The music is exactly what you'd expect from a film like this, but I have to commend the almost flawless execution of the score. It's hard to say what exactly sets it apart from its peers, as the light, moody and somewhat ethereal melodies are very much what similar films have been doing for ages. Yet somehow it all works just a little better here, delivering a soothing atmosphere and emotional climaxes at just the right moments. While I prefer more challenging and daring musical choices, it's definitely nice to see a more traditional score executed to perfection, so kudos to Medem for making this work.

The cast is quite big, mostly because the film follows the two leads through their younger years, and Medem opted to go with different actors for each age segment. A risky choice that turned out remarkably well, as the child actors do an excellent job and don't fall short of their older selves. The secondary cast is decent too, though, with the primary focus on the relationship between the lead duo, they don't have that much to do. None of the performances here are too exceptional, but everyone does their character and the film proud.

screen capture of The Lovers of the Arctic Circle [Los Amantes del Círculo Polar]

The plot is quite elaborate, and there are some hefty time jumps that will require some shifting of gears throughout the film. The turbulent dynamics between characters aren't always explicitly communicated, the coincidental plot twists can be somewhat grotesque and the split between Spain and Finland doesn't necessarily make things clearer, but if you try to keep up with the plot the gist of it shouldn't be too hard to grasp. It all comes together nicely in a worthwhile finale, though again, it is quite conceptual in nature, so don't expect anything too subtle or inconspicuous.

The core themes and setup of The Lovers of the Arctic Circle are in fact pretty simple, but Medem lavishly decorates them to create a more distinct and impactful film. In doing that, there's always a risk of dividing the audience, at the same time, it creates an opportunity for stronger, more visceral reactions. The elaborate plot, the quirky characters, the explicit cinematography and atmospheric soundtrack all build up to a beautiful finale that anchors the film as a future classic. I feel I should be seeking out more Medem films in the next couple of months, for now though, consider this an easy recommend if you haven't seen the film yet.