Weekly Wire
Metro Pulse Buried by Buzz

It's not the size of the hype, it's the motion of the picture.

By Adrienne Martini

JULY 19, 1999:  Buzz and summer movies go hand in hand. How would you know that Wild Wild West—probably the most hyped flick of the summer, barring that Lucas thing—had opened if you hadn't seen nine gazillion commercials, heard the Smith song nine billion times, and watched the "Behind the Scenes" mockumentaries on 900 stations? You could have missed it, if not for the buzz. Tragic.

Of course, buzz bites both ways. Sure, it calls your attention to big-budget special-effects spectaculars, which are perfect for the steamy months when all you really want to do is sit in some air conditioning and veg out. But it also blocks your view of the no-budget, no special-effects sensitive-type films that are also perfect for a July afternoon since they mentally transport you away from the sun and the hot into a new, refreshing atmosphere.

Screenwriter and director Julio Medem's Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Los Amantes del Circulo Polar) is just such a journey, which has managed to completely slip under the radar of most movie lovers, who are still simply dazzled by the sheer amount of hype that has been generated by the '99 summer films. Oh, and Lovers is subtitled, which always scares the American moviegoer—especially during the Dog Days when reading the back of a toothpaste tube seems like too much work. But this film's relative obscurity is a crying shame. Medem has done something wonderful—not perfect, mind you—but wonderful.

In some ways, Lovers is more like a dream-state than a movie—think magical realism a la Like Water for Chocolate or any book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Perhaps there's just something inherent in the Spanish language that makes creators from two sides of the ocean (Spain and Mexico) inject doses of surreality into relatively coherent plots-lines, adding a layer of carefully juxtaposed subtext that connects the sub-conscious with the visible world. Admittedly, the idea of magical realism makes little sense when you try to coldly explain it. It wiggles out of your grasp and remains, well, magical.

Much like the plot itself, which is not so much a series of events that occur (even though very concrete things do happen) but is more like a collection of impressions that keep repeating. There are big red buses, circles, airplanes, and hearts—all of which eventually become markers for twists and symbols of change. And while the translated title would imply that the main characters are in love with the Arctic Circle itself, a more appropriate name would focus on love itself and the arbitrary border the Circle could be seen as—and doubly confusing since it takes nearly three-quarters of the film to even get this far north from Spain.

Which really doesn't explain what happens—the most crucial part of any movie review if one is to listen to one's typical J-school prof. So what happens is: Ana (Najwa Nimri) and Otto (Fele MartÍnez) are two separated lovers, who also happen to be related by marriage, about to reunite on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Then, we flash back to how they met. First, Otto gets to tell his version; Ana tells hers. And the plot progresses, and about an hour and a half later we are back where we started, with the lovers about to reunite on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

From this brief synopsis, it seems that an action-epic would be a much better choice. Real things would happen. Stuff would explode. But Lovers has different kinds of explosions that are somehow more potent than those produced by Hollywood. Medem, Nimri, and MartÍnez capture the explosions of a first kiss, of a broken heart, of disenchanted parents, and of sex. Plus, the vacuums of loss, of misdirection, and of pain. Part of the joy of the story is knowing absolutely nothing about it and discovering the magical manner through which it unfolds. And Medem and director of photography Kalo F. Berridi make it all visually beautiful and heart-renderingly personal—despite the intrusion of sub-titles and hard-to-describe plot.

The kudos, however, cannot simply go to Medem. It is the cast's utter faith in the director coupled with their talent that help hold the whole thing together. Nimri brings depth to Ana, creating a female character who is both vulnerable and fierce, bright and impulsive, intelligent yet stupid—layers of personality that you will never see in a Hollywood summer flick. MartÍnez is Nimri's equal and his eyes and body betray everything that is running through Otto's mind. While these are not well-known names on this side of the Atlantic, both of these actors have been praised in their homelands. MartÍnez has won a Goya—equivalent to the Oscar—and Nimri has been nominated for this role.

Despite all of the incredible work that went into Lovers, this is really a film for those who enjoy film for film's sake, who don't demand a high body count or a big-name star, who can deal with illusionary realities and coincidental plot twists. Admittedly, some of the territory covered has been staked out before by films like Map of the Human Heart, but Medem and company have brought something unique to the presentation.


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