New Zealander Vincent Ward’s third film is an immensely ambitious and audacious love story spanning 30 years and two continents. Much of it is set and filmed above the Arctic Circle in northern Canada, providing breathtaking icescapes for Eduardo Serra’s camera.
The story unfolds in flashback, starting in 1965 as an old Innuit Eskimo tells a Yank mapmaker (a small role for John Cusack) his life story. Back in 1931, a vintage aircraft lands on the ice near the Innuit village, bringing with it dashing Brit, Walter Russell (Patrick Bergin), who intends to chart the area. He befriends Avik (Robert Joamie) a cheerful young Innuit, who later forms a close friendship with a half-French Canadian, half-Indian girl, Albertine (Annie Galipeau).
Ten years later, in 1941, Russell returns to the Arctic on a mission to track down a German U-boat and meets Avik (Jason Scott Lee) again. Hearing that Albertine (Anne Parillaud) is in Europe, Avik enlists in the Canadian air force. Subsequently, he takes part in the notorious bombing of Dresden. Pic’s last act, set in the 1960s, records Avik’s encounter with the daughter he never knew he had.
Ward [who wrote the story] and celebrated Australian playwright Louis Nowra evidently aimed to create one of those sweeping romantic sagas that are from time to time popular screen fare. They almost succeed, but more romantic passion would have helped.
[Version reviewed was 126-minute ‘work in progress’ shown in a non-competing slot at Cannes in May 1992. Final 106-minute version featured new scenes in the middle of the pic – a romantic triangle played by Bergin, Lee and Parillaud – and a reshaped ending.]