Lovers of the Arctic Circle, 1998

The paths of Otto and Ana literally cross as children: Ana (Sara Valiente), running away from the news of her father’s death; Otto (Peru Medem), running after a soccer ball. They are captivated by each other, but leave without saying a word. One day, Otto learns that his parents are divorcing, and to prove his devotion to his mother (Beate Jensen), he chooses to stay with her. In school, he begins to write notes on the nature of love, a question that has plagued him since his parents’ divorce, and folds the notes into paper airplanes to send into the school yard. Ana retrieves one of the notes and shows it to her mother, Olga (Maru Valdivielso), who is intrigued by the emotional maturity of the message. Ana points to the nearest adult, Otto’s father, Alvaro (Nancho Novo), as the author. On a rainy afternoon, Otto waits for Ana in the school yard with a specific introduction in mind: he would say that his name is a palindrome, that it is spelled the same way backwards and forwards, and that somehow, this revelation would endear him to her. But she does not appear. He opens the door to his father’s car…and Ana is there. He begins to recite his rehearsed speech, but she interrupts. Her name is a palindrome too. Soon, Alvaro and Olga become involved, and the two children grow up as step siblings. Ana sees her father’s soul reflected in Otto’s eyes, and their profound connection makes them inseparable. But their love for each other proves more permanent than their parents’ relationship. Now a young man, Otto (Fele Martinez), decides to move in with his father to be closer to Ana (Najwa Nirmi), and a tragedy results from his actions. Racked with guilt, Otto runs away from home. After a failed relationship, Ana also runs away, and moves to a remote cabin in Finland that straddles the Arctic Circle to await the “coincidence” of her life.

Julio Medem creates a hauntingly beautiful and intensely atmospheric story of fate and destiny in Lovers of the Arctic Circle. Similar to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique and Red, near and chance encounters transcend the novelty of convenient plot device to expound on the film’s circular themes and recurring patterns. In addition to the story unfolding in circular narrative, specific events also recur within the film, recounted from separate perspectives by Ana and Otto. Episodically, the film begins and ends with the image of Otto reflected in Ana’s eyes. Their palindromic names, near collisions with the trolley car, and an encounter with Otto’s namesake, Otto Midelman (Joost Siedhoff), further reflect the film’s circular structure. In Ana’s opening monologue, she asks: “Can you run back? A few hours back, a life back?” In the land of the midnight sun, in the surreality of the Arctic Circle, it is still not far enough to escape one’s destiny.

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