CANNES–Shown as a work in progress in a noncompeting slot at Cannes, New Zealander Vincent Ward’s third film is an immensely ambitious and audacious love story spanning 30 years and two continents. Filled with magnificent scenes, pic in this version is marred by an awkward ending that could be modified for far greater impact. Prelim reactions, however, were positive.
Although there are elements here of Ward’s previous work, “Map” unfolds on a far broader canvas than either “Vigil” or “The Navigator.” Much of it is set and filmed above the Arctic Circle in northern Canada, providing breathtaking icescapes for Eduardo Serra’s camera. French influence is noticeable; at times pic’s large cast and romantic story line recall the work of Claude Lelouch.
The story unfolds in flashback, starting in 1965 as an old Inuit 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 Inuit village, bringing with it a dashing Brit, Walter Russell (Patrick Bergin), who intends to chart the area.
He befriends Avik (Robert Joamie) a cheerful young Inuit, and is saddened to discover that he, like many Eskimo boys, suffers from tuberculosis.
When Russell leaves, he takes Avik with him to Montreal and places him in a hospital. Here the pic’s central love story is launched when the lonely and disgruntled boy forms a close relationship with fellow patient Albertine (Annie Galipeau), a half-French Canadian, half-Indian girl.
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 is in Europe, Avik enlists in the Canadian air force, but by the time the two meet in England, Albertine and Russell have become involved.
Still, the two Canadians finally make love in a striking, wonderfully strange scene atop a barrage balloon being raised above an ancient British landmark, the White Horse at Uffington.
Subsequently, Avik takes part in the bombing of Dresden, where he is forced to parachute from his plane and witness the destruction of the city from ground level. Pic’s last act, set in the ’60s, records Avik’s encounter with the daughter he never knew he had, who has come searching for her Inuit father.
Ward and celebrated Australian playwright Louis Nowra, who penned the screenplay, 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.
Crucially, Avik and Albertine don’t have enough scenes together as adults to establish their long-term love story. Many of these problems can probably be solved via further postproduction tinkering.
On the plus side, “Map” is filled with spectacular sequences. The early Arctic scenes are stunningly handled, the balloon love scene is odd but beautiful, and the segment on the Dresden bombing is an astonishing amalgam of special effects and cinema artistry.
The various casting agencies have done a fine job, with moppets Joamie and Galipeau convincingly growing up into Lee and Annie Parillaud. Needed humor is supplied by Jeanne Moreau, as a hospital nun who hates Protestants, and Aussie thesp Ben Mendelson as an airman.
Technically, “Map” is superb and there’s a top score by French composer Gabriel Yared. However, it remains to be seen if further fine-tuning will enhance the picture’s international B.O. potential.