Review: Hard lives against a bleak landscape in 'Aga'

By Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

There is a balance of isolation and expanse in the film “Aga” that cannot be feigned, a sense of the enormity of existence measured against the fragile nature of single lives. The result is both wondrous and chilling.

The chill is hardly surprising as the film takes place in some unnamed far northern territory that’s all snow and ice and rock. There Nanook (Mikhail Aprosimov) and his wife Sedna (Feodosia Ivanova) live in a yurt, barely hanging on. At one time they had reindeer – ah, those were the days – but now the reindeer, like all other living things, have near disappeared.

A couple struggles while living in the wilderness in "Aga."

And so they eke out an existence. Nanook goes out daily and sets traps that only sporadically work. He chips large holes in the ice to fish, but even then often comes up dry.

It’s a methodical, hard existence with dwindling returns and director Milko Lazarov spends most of “Aga” simply portraying that struggle. As Nanook or Sedna trudge from chore to chore Lazarov keeps still, letting them walk right out of the scene as the camera lingers on the harsh environment. Humans, after all, are just a small part of this cold, huge, seemingly endless world.  

Some things are learned about the isolated couple. They ‘re estranged for reasons unknown from their daughter, Aga, but Sedna is making Aga a fur hat, obviously hoping to reconnect. Sedna is also ailing – it’s unclear whether Nanook’s even aware of this – but the harsh world around them goes on.

“Aga” shines grim light on both man’s insignificance and eventual demise, but it also finds subtle beauty in attachment and perseverance and emotion, and on connection no matter how strained. We’re all struggling n the wilderness; grab what you can and hold.



Not rated

Running time: 96 minutes

Aga (Not rated)