by W. G. White
The title is no exaggeration.
I have quite a passion for ‘travel’ films; the sort that takes protagonist on grand adventures where they discover life outside of their comfort zones. The sort of film that makes you want to hitch-hike your way across Iceland, or chart a sea voyage from New Zealand to Alaska. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a film that made me feel like that, as was Hector and the Search of Happiness. I’ve even written a book that features three runaway chaps and an improvised trek across the British Isles. So, I’m a little surprised that Long Way North managed to exist for an entire year without me having heard of it.
Sasha (Chloé Dunn), a young Russian aristocrat, embarks on a voyage to discover the fate of her explorer grandfather. It’s 1882, and since the disappearance of Oloukine (Féodor Atkine) , Sasha’s family name has become an embarrassment to the Russian empire. But that’s not why Sasha runs away from her cosy high-life, in fact, she barely seems to care about that. She’s chasing closure. Sasha knows her grandfather’s ship is unsinkable, and after she discovers a new set of coordinates she can’t sit on her hands and leave the rescuing to anyone else. What follows is a vibrant adventure full of heart, misfortune, and a lot of snow.
I find animation can be hit and miss. Often times, there’s a fine line between inspired and laughable, but I found Long Way North to be beautiful not only in its art but in its simplicity and abundance of bright, pastel colours, too. The little details like loose strands of hair and the swaying of a dog’s fur brought the visuals to life in a way that few animations can capture. It’s obvious that director Rémi Chayé not only had a unique vision, but also the talent and skill to execute that vision.
On top of Chayé’s unique vision, Jonathan Morali delivers a score that is hair-raisingly lovely. It’s haunting in the right moments, and hopeful when it needs to be. A good travel adventure film will rely heavily on an inspirational score to set the tone and that’s exactly what Morali has created.
The worst element and perhaps the only truly bad part of the film was the voice acting. Perhaps it was just the English dub (I didn’t watch the French version), but a lot of the dialogue was delivered in a stiff, mostly emotionless way. A lot of the shouting was done in merely raised voices, as though the actors were too embarrassed to really sink their teeth into the roles and commit to the acting. On top of the poor delivery, the mix is truly terrible. It doesn’t sound as though it was recorded in a professional environment, rather in someone’s living room with a directionless microphone. I hope the French dub was better, but it does feel as though the English dub was a rushed afterthought.
Not that that hindered my enjoyment of the film. There are fantastic ups, breathtaking sights, and an underlying sense of adventure that drags you forward by the heart-strings. But, likewise, there are lows, too. Stranded at the north pole, their ship broken against the harsh icebergs, their captain almost dead, resources dwindling along with all hope, it’s easy to understand how the crew Sasha hires to take her on her adventure comes close to mutiny. Here, the film manages to explore the perils of adventure and doesn’t only celebrate the dizzying highs of it. I was surprised at how bleak the situation truly became, but was honestly a little disappointed when it failed to go a step further and solidify that bleakness. Instead, most things worked out for the best.
Sasha ends up discovering the frozen remains of her grandfather, sat atop a snowy hilltop and overlooking the sunset. She sits with her grandfather for a while, and even gives him a loving hug. It’s a bittersweet moment, and one that encapsulates exactly what makes Long Way North such a fantastic film: breathtaking visuals, a chilling score, and a depth that could easily reduce a grown man to ugly sobbing.
Dir: Rémi Chayé
Scr: Claire Paoletti, Patricia Valeix, Fabrice de Costil
Cast: Chloé Dunn, Peter Hudson, Antony Hickling, Féodor Atkine, Thomas Sagols, Rémi Caillebot, Audrey Sablé, Fabien Briche
Prd: Ron Dyens, Claus Toksvig Kjaer, Henri Magalon
Art Dir: Han Jin Kuang, Liane-Cho, Slaven Reese
Music: Jonathan Morali
Country: France, Denmark
Run time: 81 mins
Long Way North will be available on DVD on the 10th of October 2016