An errant soccer ball kicked over a fence sends eight year old Otto off in pursuit. When he spies Ana in mid-chase, however, he forgets the ball and sets out after her instead – smart kid – having absolutely no idea what he’ll do if or when he catches her. The answer, the ONLY possible answer, really, in Julio Medem’s hauntingly poetic “Lovers of the Arctic Circle,” is to inevitably and hopelessly fall in love for the rest of their lives.
In fact, from the very instant they realize that both their names are palindromes (words spelled identically forwards and backwards, for all you non-Monty Python fans out there,) it’s obvious that Ana and Otto are simply meant for each other. Thrown together as brother and sister when Otto’s father leaves his wife and becomes romantically involved with Ana’s widowed mother, the two faux siblings grow up together in more ways than one. Picture “The Brady Bunch” off-camera and you’ll get the idea.
Actually, from a strictly narrative point of view, that’s about all there is to this film. We follow Ana and Otto’s secret relationship as it deepens, struggles to survive a tragic crisis, then heads towards its almost inevitable resolution, yes, inside the Arctic Circle. I won’t say whether it’s a happy or sad ending; only that it’s a poignant ending you won’t soon forget.
Narrative simplicity aside, the key – and the awesome beauty – of the film is the WAY the story’s told rather than the story itself. Using a structure similar to the overlapping multiple points of view recently utilized in “Go” or, more extensively, in “Pulp Fiction” as its starting point, “Lovers…” carries this device a step further. Not only does a repetition from Ana’s point of view when she’s a child, say, flesh out an already-seen event, but Medem may seamlessly intercut this previously throwaway but now crucial childhood event in the midst of an adult Ana and Otto scene. The effect is as unnerving as it is enrapturing.
There’s far more going on in this loaded film than just a love story and some temporal bouncing about, however. None-too-subtle Oedipal issues crop up, for one thing, and an especially elegant riff on the power coincidence plays in fate. If you’re an ardent believer in the philosophy of “Free Will,” this film will drive you absolutely nuts. I, for one, am (still) a strong believer in Free Will. I believe you have a choice whether or not you check out “Lovers of the Arctic Circle.”
I strongly suggest that you do.