Nanook of Yakutia

Harsh-life Arctic documentary Ága has a calm center, brilliant cinematography.

Milko Lazarov’s Ága is more of a gorgeous ethnographic tone poem than a narrative. Produced out of Bulgaria, France, and Germany, and filmed in Yakutia, aka the Sakha Republic in Siberia, director/co-writer Lazarov’s near-documentary shows the daily life — with one or two surprises — of a pair of indigenous people, Nanook (Mikhail Aprosimov) and his wife Sedna (Feodosia Ivanova), who live on the frozen tundra in a yurt.

Nanook used to herd reindeer for a living, but something is happening to the wildlife population and now he fears for his livelihood. Nanook and Sedna lie fully clothed and wordlessly in their bed, gazing up at the stars through the hole in the yurt’s roof. Dreams, signs, portents, and animal spirits all point to a restlessness in the air.

Filmmaker Lazarov dwells on the harsh landscape and the little family’s survival strategy with just as much reportorial zeal as documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty displayed in his classic silent Nanook of the North. The everyday hard work of Lazarov’s namesake Nanook in 2018 is pretty much the same as that of Flaherty’s Inuit in 1922, and has the advantage of being captured in dazzling color by cinematographer Kaloyan Bozhilov. Ága is a subtle yet unmistakable reminder that there are thousands, even millions of stories in the world that have almost nothing to do with anything electronic.


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