Contemporary Spanish cinema’s greatest director is not the always overrated Pedro Almod’var, or the rising star that is Alejandro Amenabar (Thesis, The Others), but Julio Medem. You can test this assertion from the many Spanish films included in various strands of this programme. Medem is represented by three titles: his latest, Sex and Lucia, which is a new release; his feature debut, Vacas (Cows), which is included in the Spanish Cinema Course; and the present film. A companion piece to Sex and Lucia, Lovers of the Arctic Circle is a complex yet wholly satisfying tale of star-crossed lovers buffeted by the turbulent winds of fate. It spans 17 years in the lives of Otto and Ana, who first meet as children in a Spanish schoolyard, to their reunion in the wilds of northern Finland when they’re 25. The story is told by Otto and Ana in alternate bursts, inflected mainly by how they view one another. A plot synopsis does no justice to the film’s fluid, poetic style. Medem has developed striking visual patterns and a non-linear form of narration to present his philosophical ideas in ways that are highly original and cinematic. Exploring human relationships in the context of the mysterious forces of chance and destiny, he uses the circle as a multi-layered tool to give coherence to his themes. Jumping back and forth in time and building coincidence upon coincidence, the film manages to create a strong sense of how the mystical powers of love and fate affect its characters. Lovers contrives to be both cerebral and romantic, with its combination of dream imagery and everyday reality sometimes reaching the kind of poetic heights achieved by masters such as Krzysztof KieÊlowski and Alain Resnais. It would be difficult to make such claims for the work of any other current Spanish director.
Spain-France, 1998. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 112 mins.