Critic's Choice



Asif Kapadia, Far North and the possibilities of cinema

By Gareth Evans


One of Britain�s most distinctive film-making talents, Asif Kapadia established himself internationally with two award-winning films, The Sheep Thief and The Warrior, which immediately marked him out from the purveyors of the tunnel-vision urban realism that dominates this island�s cinema. Epic, fabular tales that unfolded in striking and often forbidding landscapes, they displayed a remarkably precise sensibility � at once symbolic and attentively grounded - and an absolutely cinematic way with narrative. Here was storytelling for the campfire and the cave, as timeless as the need to make meaning out of the mystery of being in the world.


Now he is back with Far North, an equally ambitious folk drama about the limits of love and the nature of endurance. Saiva and her adopted daughter Anja live in near isolation as they are forced further north on the Arctic Tundra. One day a figure -- Loki -- appears on the ice and collapses. Against her better judgement Saiva nurses him back to health, setting in motion a devastating series of events as Saiva and Anja compete for Loki�s attention�


Vertigo: In your award-winning short films and feature debut, you raised the stakes considerably as to what a current British first time film-maker might achieve, displaying huge formal, thematic and visual ambition. How did you conceive Far North in terms of following on from The Sheep Thief and The Warrior?


Asif Kapadia: I would say that each film has come organically out of the experience of the one before. The Sheep Thief was my last short. I wanted really to push myself with it, it was my first experience of working in India, in Hindi and with non professional actors. With my first feature The Warrior, it felt natural to return to India. The short had been successful and it seemed a realistic project to get financed as a first film. The Warrior screened at the Tromso film festival and I knew that I could base myself there to make a film which was the inverse of The Warrior. Far North would be on ice, in the cold north, and the story would focus on women and their survival and on one woman�s journey to a dark place though her actions.


�I�ve lived all my life in London and I love living in the city, but when shooting I want to discover somewhere new; I am drawn to the desert and mountains.�


V: You adapted a striking story by Sara Maitland. What drew you to this fabular tale?


AK: Sara was an old friend of my co-writer Tim Miller. He found a collection of her short stories on the second-hand book stall outside the National Film Theatre. He reread them and felt that one tale might be something I would respond to. It was short, spare and very dark! I was truly shocked by the climax when I read it. I knew it would be a hard movie to make, but I was excited by the challenge. Was there a way to make a film where we could understand why the older woman does what she does at the end? I also liked the visual dynamics of the film - three people in an enclosed space, in a vast harsh unforgiving landscape.


V: The original story is, in terms of contemporary culture, drawn from much deeper roots than the normal material, urban dramas and so on, we are so used to reading and seeing. What were your thoughts on the sense of time and place the filmic version would employ?


�I love fairy tales, classical, timeless stories. I was interested in how people survive within the landscape and in the idea of three people living together and being attracted to one another.�


AK: I love fairy tales, classical, timeless stories. I was interested in how people survive within the landscape and in the idea of three people living together and being attracted to one another. At the heart of the short story is the relationship between two women, and how one man comes between them. These are themes which I feel are universal. Just, in this case, they are played out in this other worldly landscape. The film feels as if it takes place in the past but slowly we start to see more modern elements. Maybe the film is taking place in the past, in the present� some people feel it is taking place in the future.


V: The story as you have filmed it is both a very intimate chamber drama, an archetypal myth and a portrait of a hostile society and environment. How did you measure and pitch these elements together?


AK: I like simple stories, where every gesture, action or image hopefully has many layers and meanings. The main drive for me was the character of the older woman played by Michelle Yeoh. It is her story - she is going to hell in many ways - and I wanted to see if I could show her slowly being pushed toward an awful decision. Is it all written? Was she cursed from birth? Or does she make her own decisions which in the end ruin her life? I wanted to try to remain true to the short story and find a way for the audience to develop a sympathy or understanding of what drove her to this dark place.


�We have an idea to make a quartet of films, morality tales, set within the landscapes of the four points of the compass.�


V: You are well known for a striking use of landscape. Please tell us a little about the location decisions.


AK: The film came out of my visiting the Tromso film festival in 2003. I saw the northern lights, went on a husky ride and realised it was possible to make a film in the arctic. Tim and I already had an option on Sara Maitland�s short story, we just had no idea how or where we could make it. Then a chance conversation with my driver introduced me to Svalbard and I fell in love with the place. It is the most northerly settlement in the world, a couple of hours from the North Pole. I knew I had to try to shoot the film there.


I made many trips up to the arctic across the seasons while writing and researching the film. So by the time the script was completed I had all of my locations. The main body of the film, on the harsh lifeless island, is all shot in Svalbard. The opening and the flashbacks take place on the Norwegian mainland at the very north of mainland Norway. I shot there to give the film a contrast and a sense of journey. Being a few hours further south, it bought us more daylight shooting time. It was also a place where we could access �tame� reindeer herds.


V: You were filming in often difficult terrain. Is this sense of challenge fundamental to how you see film-making?


AK: I�ve lived all my life in London and I love living in the city, but when shooting I want to discover somewhere new; I am drawn to the desert and mountains. I became interested in filmmaking by being on set for other people�s films in various capacities. I�m not a studio person really, I�m not someone who likes to sit at a desk and I�m not a huge fan of visual effects. I love being on location. Shooting in plus 50 degrees in India or minus 40 degrees in the arctic is tough, there is no denying it, and you don�t always get what you want or plan for, but the quality of light, the faces of local people, the landscape, working with a local cast and crew and using the magical accidents that happen when you are shooting in India or in the arctic keep me wanting to do it all again. I suppose there is something in wanting to push myself and my crew to a new challenge.

I also love world cinema, I speak more than one language, I love to travel, to discover places and people so of course there is something in working in other countries and in other languages that excites me. I�ve just made a short film in Rome, in Italian, with four kids for the Venice film festival.


V: How did the actors approach this material, in its various aspects?


AK: The cast was going to be small, but because of the landscape the film was never going to be a cheap one to make safely, so I knew I was going to have to work with professional actors. I wanted the women to have the look of non-European, �Mongolian� peoples. It was going to be a really tough job with none of the elements that actors are used to - no limos, trailers or five star hotels. We were all to live together on a Russian ice breaker!

Michelle Yeoh was recommended to me by my casting director as she was a supreme professional, used to physically demanding roles. We met and I pitched the film to her and explained all of the complications involved in the shooting. She wanted to do the film and she stuck with us. It took a long time to put the film together but she never wavered. She was fantastic and a real joy to work with, willing to take on every aspect of the role, from skinning a seal to walking across live and shifting glaciers.

Michelle Krusiec played the girl, she auditioned really well and was desperate to do the film. I thought she would be a good �visual� match with Michelle Yeoh, especially considering the ending, and she would be experienced enough to develop and grow during the film.

Sean Bean came on board very late and he again was a real pro. He had to symbolise a lot in a simple way, he was the �Man�, Loki who comes in and causes havoc. His first day of shooting involved running naked across the ice! It was a real test of his character and he did it twice. No questions asked.


V: Could you talk a little about the aesthetic or other reference points you might have drawn on?


AK: I think Far North is a type of western, which just happens to take place in the middle of nowhere on ice. While we were writing the film a friend mentioned Onibaba, a brilliant Japanese film which may well have been based on a very similar folk tale. Virgin Spring was another film we discussed at the writing stage as it had such a powerful climax and a magical strand. I also remember having Audition in the back of my mind as the film has a slow build up to an amazingly powerful, shocking ending.

Only recently I watched Eureka again. I�m a big fan of Nic Roeg and seeing it again after so many years, I was struck by the opening and the use of landscape. It almost felt as if the two films were shot in the same place, although I had no conscious memory of the film while we were making ours. Come and See is another film which I often return to for its awesome power and performances.


V: There is an internationalist vision in all your film-making that challenges the parochial definitions and limitations of regular British cinema. How therefore has your film been received internationally, and how / where do you consider yourself in terms of the landscape of cinema?


AK: I am a Londoner from Hackney, I grew up in a Muslim / Indian home in a very multicultural environment, surrounded by people from different cultures, speaking different languages. I think this has influenced me in the stories I find interesting. I have always felt that in my �style�, with minimal dialogue, slower pacing and choices in casting I was instinctively more �European� or Asian in style.

I have always been a fan of world cinema. They were the films that inspired me and opened my mind to different ways of telling stories. When I was first trying to write and direct films, I felt slightly restricted by the type of stories we could tell in the UK; gritty realism, costume dramas, comedies, gangster films. I wanted to make westerns! It made sense for me to try to create my own �international� style.

My short films had always done better abroad. At the time there were not too many film festivals here in the UK and my shorts were often not accepted at them. Thanks to the support of the British Council, whenever possible I would travel to festivals to see how my short film was received, to watch as many films as possible, to learn how and why certain films worked. I met my French producer Bertrand Faivre at a festival in Brest. So it made sense to me when I started making feature films that I should think about the international market. The UK is a small country and not the most cine-literate in many ways, so if you can think about the rest of the world maybe there is more of a chance of surviving to make the next film.

Far North premiered at the Venice Film festival, has screened at many international festivals and is being distributed by Celluloid Dreams. But it�s hard work, it�s a real gamble making independent films. You just have to think about the long term and keep trying to push yourself.


V: Could you tell us anything about projects in development?


AK: Tim and I have an idea to make a quartet of films, morality tales, set within the landscapes of the four points of the compass; so The Warrior was an �Eastern�, following the lead character�s spiritual journey of redemption and an escape from violence. Far North of course� and so we would love to do a film in the South in Latin America, followed by a Western. We�re working on a script right now, but I�m not sure if it will fit into this quartet structure, as I�d love to shoot another film in India. I am also starting work on a feature documentary. This may be my next film as we finalise the script and raise the finance for the next fiction feature.


Far North is released in the UK by Soda Pictures on 26th December.


Sean Bean reveals cheesy M&S job

Far North is quite a spectacular film, where did you shoot it?

We filmed it in the Arctic Circle, 400 miles away from the North Pole. We got there in a plane then had to take a couple of ships. We were surrounded by ice and polar bears. We lived on a ship for five weeks, went to work on the land and then went to bed in our cabins. It's a very strange landscape with a very magical sort of light. There's no one there at all.

Were you attacked by polar bears?

No but we saw some tracks all around the catering trucks. There were guys around on lookout making sure we were OK. The bears can come out of nowhere. They'd lurk around in the middle of the night.

After working so closely together for six weeks, are you and Michelle Yeoh best mates now?

(Awkward silence) Erm, it's difficult in those conditions. You don't get much time to do anything apart from your job. She was a real trouper. She never complained.

Why did you want to do it?

It's a bit arty. It's not mainstream cinema, which is why I wanted to do it. It s an unusual and enigmatic story that doesn't pander to a mainstream audience.

What's the best thing you've had to learn for a film?

Films where I've had to learn sword fighting or riding. Training with the South African equivalent of the SAS for Bravo Two Zero was an interesting insight into how they conduct themselves.

Sean Bean came to fame in ITV costume drama series Sharpe. He has appeared in films including Lord Of The Rings, Flightplan and GoldenEye.

What's been your worst moment on stage?

When I was doing Macbeth, I missed a huge chunk of a soliloquy. I came offstage saying: "That's the best it's ever gone'"  and was told I missed three-quarters of the speech out. Corpsing is also a terrifying feeling.  I did that in Macbeth, too. When something is so horrific it can turn into hysteria, which turns into uncontrollable laughter.

What films would you erase from your CV?

I wouldn't erase them, I'd just advise you not to see them, but I'm not naming any. I've done films that had huge potential but due to whatever circumstances, the original story was diluted. As an actor, you're in the hands of producers and directors. It's important to find out who you're working with.

What's been your most extravagant purchase?

I bought a Jaguar when I was 28. I'd always wanted one. I had it for years, then my friend had it, then my dad had it. It was a good workhorse. I got my money's worth from it and gave it a respray.

What is the worst job you've ever had?

Working in the cheese department in Marks & Spencer when I was 17. The smell was terrible and I had to wear a white paper hat. I started at 9am and left at lunchtime. I got on the bus and never went back.

Was going to Rada a culture shock?

It was at first. It was a big move for me. I was born and brought up in Sheffield and had never lived anywhere else. It took a while to adapt to life in London but six months into my course at Rada, I felt very at home.

How long were you going to try acting for before you got a proper job?

Getting into Rada really gave me huge focus; it was the moment when I decided I'd do it for the rest of my life. I didn't have any doubts that I'd be successful. I don't want to sound arrogant but I was so determined and so excited by acting, I really thought I'd make a go of it.

What's the best Christmas present you ever received?

A Raleigh Chopper bike, that was definitely the thing to have in the 1970s

The Times, December 24, 2008

Asif Kapadia is another director who carves stories out of vast, empty landscapes. His cruel thriller, Far North, set on the Arctic tundra, could hardly be further removed from Australia. Yet it is similarly in awe of ancient magic. Michelle Yeoh is an Inuit outcast, cursed at birth and destined to die alone. She lives like a ghost on the shoreline, drifting from one stony beach to the next with her adopted daughter (Michelle Krusiec).

The discovery of a half-dead Russian deserter, glued to the ice, acts like a sunlamp on their frozen sexual emotions. Sean Bean plays the grateful soldier to craggy perfection, keeping a wary distance while his wounds heal. But the intimacy turns poisonous when the teenage Krusiec slides ever more brazenly into Bean's corner of the tent. Yeoh wordlessly bottles her jealousy, and simply gets on with the brutal business of survival. Yet every scrap of film resonates with Yeoh's raw and monumental sense of injustice: the slag-heaps of volcanic rock; the bitter weather; the dirty miles of glacial ice.

Kapadia has had several stumbles since his Bafta award-winning debut, The Warrior (2001). This is an impressive return to form for the British director, even if the final ghastly twist of Far North is barely watchable.

Channel 4

Far North review, by Jon Fortgang

Michelle Yeoh and Sean Bean star in this quietly intense drama about a man and two women adrift in the Arctic. From the director of The Warrior, Asif Kapadia

The empty ice-planes of the Arctic form the barren backdrop to this skeletal story, which exists in a strange state of mythical realism before plunging headfirst into unfathomable horror.

Made on location by Asif Akadia, the British director whose first film The Warrior from 2001 was followed five years later by an unexpected - and, given that richly hypnotic debut, uncharacteristic - knock-off horror The Return, Far North's eerie marriage of allegory and symbol is reminiscent of Russian director Andrei Zvyaginstinstev’s 2003 masterpiece of the same name. Like that other Return, Kapadia's adaptation of Sara Maitland's short story approaches basic human impulses using the elemental language of fable. It's a strategy which grants Far North a power that's both primal and otherworldly as frozen emotion thaws beneath the heavy skies of the Arctic.

Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) and her younger companion Anja (Michelle Krusiac) are two women moving without apparent purpose across the Arctic, pitching camp on the ice and surviving on dog and reindeer meat. The time is clearly the present yet Far North's context is tantalisingly timeless. The only explanation for the women's nomadic isolation comes in Saiva's opening statement - a rare concession to conventional exposition - that she was cursed at birth by a shaman who damned her to destroy anyone with whom she became close.

Trekking across the tundra, Saiva runs into Loki (Sean Bean), a soldier on the run from a conflict ravaging the Arctic, the nature of which is never quite explicit - unlike the brutality of the Russian invaders, which is. The two women take Loki in and their relationship is marked by a complicated mix of sexual attraction, power and jealousy, at the heart of which is Loki's liaison with Anja, and Saiva's consequent, long-simmering resentment.


"Richly atmospheric, fantastically shot and finally brutally disturbing"


In an impressive example of what might be called Method filmmaking, Far North was shot on location on the Norwegian Svalbag archipelago, where the temperature regularly drops to minus 40. Kapadia's film is as sparse as this barren environment and, appropriately given the silence which echoes throughout Far North, the landscape is allowed to speak for itself. Saiva's slow tread across the creaking tundra, Loki stepping out onto the frozen sea, the ice walls rising up round their tiny encampment - the sense of hardship is chillingly authentic, just as the Arctic itself is cast as an awesome unforgiving observer.

That same physical authenticity is slyly undercut by the ambiguities which Kapadia threads through the story. The film's silence and its allusions to unexplained events, and the cold, closed world in which it unfolds mean these characters need some other way to carry the weight of dramatic archetype. Yeoh, who like Michelle Krusiac is an Asian actor cast as an indigenous Inuit, achieves this spectacularly. As the wise-survivor turned vengeful victim, Saiva elicits sufficient sympathy for the genuinely shocking conclusion - which breaks the bond with realism and transforms the story into a fairytale told in hell - to generate a sense of terrible yet tender tragedy.

In Norse mythology Loki was the protean prankster whose presence spelt trouble for gods and humans alike. Kapadia doesn't labour this point, though Sean Bean's character is clearly a catalyst for change. Odd as it is - though not implausible - that the Caucasian Bean should be a soldier out there in the snow, he brings with him a rugged, survivalist's instinct and a potent sense of masculinity, first as a man who can't believe how good his luck is, and subsequently how bad.

This tension between the twin demands of realism and fantasy eventually pulls Far North into genuinely bizarre territory - so bizarre in fact, that when it arrives there, Kapadia's film just stops. There's no catharsis and no resolution, but the power of this strange little fable unfolding at the edge of the world is both disturbing and profoundly haunting.


Richly atmospheric, fantastically shot and finally brutally disturbing, this small yet devastating fable isn't quite like anything else at all.


The Irish Times

Frostbite and feminism in the Arctic


FAR NORTH: Directed by Asif Kapadia. Starring Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Krusiec, Sean Bean, Per Egil Aske, Jan Olav Dahl, Espen Prestbakmo 15A cert, limited release, 89 min ****

FOLLOWING THE disappointment of his dire 2007 horror film The Return , Asif Kapadia, one of England's more interesting young directors, returns to the epic folk cinema that characterised his superb debut, The Warrior . Set among the vast landscapes of northern Scandinavia, Far North takes a tale by Sara Maitland, a distinguished British feminist, and turns it into something that is simultaneously magnificent and preposterous. Even if you don't care for this singular drama, you cannot deny that it grabs the attention.

The reliably charismatic Michelle Yeoh plays an Arctic nomad who, as she explains in an opening voice-over, has been cursed to bring misery to all those she encounters. With this inconvenience in mind, she takes her daughter to the tundra where they live a rugged, isolated existence. That equilibrium is shattered when, one typically chilly day, a wounded soldier (Sean Bean, would you believe?) staggers over the horizon. Defying their usual habits, the two women take the stranger in and tend to his wounds. Inevitably, jealousies begin to develop between mother and daughter. Featuring echoes of classic westerns such as The Beguiled and The Searchers, Far North dances across the line between realism and fantasy. It's a difficult trick to pull off, but the film has such a convincing seriousness that most viewers will find themselves accepting the most absurd developments. Watching the deliciously brutal, fantastically dramatic denouement - which reminds us how feminist literature so often tends towards folk tales - is akin to being jabbed in the forehead with an icy harpoon. I mean that in a good way.

Asif Kapadia's Far North (3 stars) is an intriguing, disturbing and fiercely uncompromising tale of survival and love; it ends with a flourish of horror that would not disgrace Thomas Harris. Michelle Yeoh and Michelle Krusiec play Saiva and Anja, two women moving across a freezing wasteland, swaddled in furs. The terrain is hostile and the women are evidently in danger of assault by soldiers. Where are they, exactly? When is this supposed to be happening? It is an eerily stateless, ahistorical landscape. The two women befriend Loki (Sean Bean) and, fatefully, begin to vie for his affections. It is one of the most purely atmospheric movies of the year - and very original.

Hollywood reporter

Far North
Bottom Line: An outdoor adventure full of surprises and sharp as an ice pick.
By Ray Bennett
Aug 31, 2007
The Hollywood Reporter

Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- The lesson in Asif Kapadia's "Far North" is that when an independent and obviously resourceful woman from the tundra says that a shaman told her she would bring harm to anyone foolish enough to get close to her, it's wise to listen.

A vicious little tale of the icy outdoors, screened in the Venice Nights sidebar, "Far North" features Michelle Yeoh as Saiva, the arctic equivalent of a mountain woman, who takes no prisoners in her desire for solitude. What begins as a tale of survival, however, ends in a climax so shocking and unexpected that the film shouldn't be mistaken for a nice little outing in the snow.

It will take skillful marketing but there should be an audience for a film that so cleverly masks its intentions without betraying the monstrous turn it takes. Yeoh's sinuous performance as the feral survivor is also a major selling point and co-stars Sean Bean and Michelle Krusiec also are fine. Cinematographer Roman Osin takes full advantage of the extraordinary environment and of Ben Scott's blisteringly real production and costume designs. Composer Dario Marianelli conjures cues to match the haunting and threatening images. 
Set in the northern reaches of Norway in a land that is almost timeless, the film begins with an act of cruelty rendered with utmost gentleness as Saiva sacrifices one of her dogs for its blood and meat. The only human she allows near her is Anja (Krusiec), a beautiful young woman she has raised since saving her life as an infant.

Their life in the beautiful but unforgiving landscape is a daily fight against the cold and hunger but Saiva is not without a sense of humor. The dog's meat is tough. "Maybe next time we'll try one of the younger ones," she says.

In search of food and safe harbor, the pair row their boat down river past towering snow-white mountains, passing an industrialized outpost populated by men with guns ordering prisoners about. Traversing wide bodies of water amid looming icebergs, they reach dry land and a place to camp.

There is a sense of threat not only from the climate but also from the heavy boots of unleashed military authority. All is well, however, until one day a man shows up near death. Loki (Sean Bean) is from a village far away fleeing rampaging soldiers, and to Anja's surprise, Saiva takes him in. It's not a good move.

Flashbacks reveal how Saiva suffered the shaman's curse and how she saved Anja, but nothing is learned about Loki except that he's a resourceful killer. Three is a crowd, however, even in the freezing cold, but screenwriters Kapadia and Tim Miller don't sweat the small stuff. Their film is after more horrifying prey.

Running time -- 89 minutes
No MPAA rating


blog report

Venice Film Festival: 'Far North'

Mark Salisbury reports:

Asif Kapadia’s debut feature, The Warrior, was a visually stunning, elegantly told tale set against the harsh, brutal desert of India. His third feature, Far North, which screened in Venice in an out-of-competition slot, takes place against another timeless landscape, the Arctic tundra. Here, off the map, lives Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) and her adopted daughter Anja (Michelle Krusiec). Theirs is a cold, lonely, desolate existence, paddling the ice flows, scavenging for food – dog, reindeer, seagull – hiding from man, constantly moving, the sole survivors of an indigenous tribe wiped out in a shocking massacre.

Then, one day, a figure appears on the ice sheet, a man, Loki (Sean Bean), and against her better judgment Saiva rescues him, bringing home to their tent where the two women compete for his attentions, with Loki eventually pairing off with Anja. Based on a short story by Sara Maitland that Kubrick was a fan of (he asked Maitland to write AI on the strength of it), Far North has the feeling of a classic folk tale, a strong, simple human story economically told with minimal dialogue and breathtaking cinematography by Kapadia’s usual DP Roman Osin (all blues, greys and whites).

The film casts an inexorable spell and is always moving, right up until the shocking and, actually, rather baffling finale. It’s the kind of denouement one can’t talk without spoiling the film but, until then, Kapadia doesn’t put a foot wrong.


Far North
 (U.K. - France)

An Ingenious Film Partners, Film 4, Celluloid Dreams presentation of the Bureau production, in co-production association with PJB Picture Co., Film Camp, Natixis Coficine, in association with Soficinema and Cofinova. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris). Produced by Bertrand Faivre. Executive producers, Tessa Ross, Christophe Vidal, Hengameh Panahi, Duncan Reid, Peter Touche. Co-producers, Petter Borgli, Vincent Gadelle. Directed by Asif Kapadia. Screenplay by Kapadia, Tim Miller, based on the story "True North" by Sara Maitland.
With: Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Krusiec, Sean Bean, Per Egil Aske, Jan Olav Dahl, Espen Prestbakmo, Hakan Niva, Gary Pillai, Bjrarne Osterud.
In "Far North," an outcast and her adopted daughter struggle to survive on the Arctic's frozen tundra, but everything changes when a man enters their lives. Helmer Asif Kapadia reunites with most of the team behind his acclaimed debut "The Warrior," but can't make that formula work again. Pic's stunning exteriors look great on the bigscreen, but don't serve the mythic nature of the story, which cries out for stylization rather than realism. Emphasis on visuals also comes at the expense of character development. Hopes for broad arthouse play seem far-fetched, although the pic should do OK in ancillary.

Set during an unspecified time in the mid-20th century among the reindeer herders of northern Norway, the pic's principle character is tough Saiva (Michelle Yeoh). Her voiceover during opening moments explains that a Shaman said she was cursed at birth and would bring harm to anyone she loved. Flashbacks reveal how the curse has previously played out.

Saiva and Anja (Michelle Krusiec), a young woman she's raised since infancy, move from place to place, avoiding other humans. They hunt wild animals for meat and apparently sew their own clothing from skins. In the evening, Saiva combs Anja's hair while Anja rubs her feet; they cuddle together in bed at night.

When Saiva see a man, Loki (Sean Bean), collapse on the tundra, she ignore her own advice to Anja about what to do with strangers (i.e., slit their throats). Instead, she nurses him back to health.

But Loki's capable masculine presence in their cozy tent soon makes the two females compete for his attention and physical affection, setting the stage for a terrible act of revenge. Climax requires a suspension of disbelief the pic doesn't earn.

If as much care were taken with script as with visuals, pic would have more impact. As it stands, the thinly drawn characters are dwarfed by the magnificent landscapes, and fail to forge an emotional connection with auds.

Of the thesps, rugged-looking Bean comes off best in his underwritten part. Krusiec brings distractingly 21st-century rhythms to her role, while Yeoh's not shown to her best advantage, particularly in flashback scenes. The pic's essentially a three-hander; supporting characters are limited to a few lines.

The tech package, led by Roman Osin's spectacular outdoor lensing, is strong.

Camera (color, widescreen), Roman Osin; editor, Ewa Lind; music, Dario Marianelli; art director/costume designer, Ben Scott; sound (Dolby Digital), Andy Shelley, Stephen Griffiths; associate producer, Emma Murphy; casting, Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at the Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Aug. 30, 2007. Running time: 89 MIN.


The Guardian

Spies, lies, and enough sex to frighten the reindeer

Ang Lee's latest is a touching gem while Brian De Palma chooses media over message. For cold reality, though, head for the Arctic ...

Jason Solomons at The Venice Film Festival
Sunday September 2, 2007

 The Observer

Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain took its first, foal-like steps at Venice two years ago, testing the waters for a gay cowboy movie, seeing whether the mainstream might accept such a thing. It galloped to the Golden Lion and had progressed to a canter by the time of the Oscars, where Lee won Best Director before being pipped to the post by Crash

So Lee chose to unveil his latest on the Lido and the sumptuous Lust, Caution was hotly anticipated especially as US censors, apparently perturbed by some sexual content, had saddled it with a NC-17 certificate just moments before its premiere. Sexier than Heath and Jake rustling under canvas? We couldn't wait.

Actually, we had to - the sex in Lust, Caution doesn't happen for ages as Lee first meticulously re-creates Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of the Second World War and switches back several years to the colonial sophistication of Hong Kong for a Mata Hari-style story of spies and, eventually, sex.

Lee's new star Tang Wei is a revelation and a cert for Best Actress in her first film. She plays a young student who discovers a talent for acting after encouragement from an idealistic and handsome theatre director. After an ecstatic reception to a political play, he convinces the troupe they should put their thespian skills to a more subversive test - to kill a wealthy Hong Kong businessman (the magnificent Tony Leung, from In the Mood for Love) they're convinced is a spy. In a succession of charming scenes, the innocent Wei has to learn about sex (and lose her virginity) before she's ready to seduce Leung. But just as she's ignited his interest, the war intervenes.

Three years later, the action relocates to war-torn Shanghai, and the Resistance urge her to rekindle her seduction. This is when the sex explodes and the boundaries blur as they fall for each other. It is steamy stuff, occasionally verging on the rough, though nothing too scandalous - Lee, after all, is a tasteful director. There's a delicious, complex shot of Wei smiling after their first encounter - is it the accomplishment of her first orgasm or the smirk of a dutiful secret agent who has captured her target?

Shot by Mexico's Rodrigo Prieto, this is a beautiful cinematic experience, an old-fashioned, handsome picture that nods to the seductive power of movies - posters for Destry Rides Again here, a clip of Ingrid Bergman sobbing there - indeed, it's on the way to the pictures that Leung first instructs his chauffeur to bring Wei to the secret apartment that will become their sex nest. Lust, Caution is like a Ming vase, though, and while it's a wondrous object to behold, it somehow lacks a sense of passion. Perhaps I wanted more of the Lust and less of the Caution.

Lee's film made an interesting companion to Joe Wright's Atonement which opened the festival and is also a tale of lust and love cut short by war and lies. I think it's a wonderful film and an extremely moving one.

There's a lot of war out here. Brian De Palma's Redacted is a marked change from his Black Dahlia, which opened last year's festival. Set in Iraq among a troop of soldiers manning a checkpoint, it details a terrible (though fictional) episode of rape and murder perpetrated by two soldiers on a 15-year-old Muslim girl.

But De Palma is more concerned with using various media to tell his story, showing events through a pretentious French documentary; a soldier's video diary; US security cameras; terrorist websites; TV news crews; an army wife's tearful blog; and several YouTube clips.

He might have worked a few Hollywood film crews in there too, given how many studio-backed films now appear to be tackling the current war. As it is, the film isn't particularly well acted and relies on irritating improv (i.e. it feels scripted) while it also loses focus. Yes, this is a stupid war. Yes, there are lots of media outlets. And people are dying on both sides.

Venice fave George Clooney nipped down from his Lake Como villa to present Michael Clayton, in which he plays a corporate lawyer who develops a conscience when he realises he's working for bad guys, people whose fertiliser has harmed crops and innocent farm folk.

Though stylishly lit by Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck camerman Robert Elswit, it's poorly edited and tries too hard to be a Seventies-style conspiracy thriller - it even co-stars Sydney Pollack. Perhaps most disappointingly, George is slightly underpowered here, a bit too much Danny Ocean and not enough Erin Brockovich. It might soon be time to decide: does he want to act or be a politician?

Jude Law so desperately wants to act that, having tried Alfie, he's given himself the juicy Michael Caine role in a self-produced remake of that 1972 two-hander Sleuth. Caine in turn takes the Larry Olivier role while Harold Pinter has given Anthony Schaffer's script a rejig. Kenneth Branagh directs - how could it fail?

Let me count the ways. Although well received by the Italians, Sleuth was excruciating, like some dreadful school play in which the old English teacher (Caine) has a go and the golden head boy (Jude) embarrasses himself. A tasteless set, dated dialogue and flailing direction add to the misery.

My favourite surprise so far has been Asif Kapadia's Far North. The young British director pits the unlikely Sean Bean and Michelle Yeoh alongside newcomer Michelle Krusiec in a bizarrelove triangle set among reindeer and ice floes in a stunningly photographed Arctic.

Like his debut The Warrior, it's about survival, fate, the natural and the supernatural, a film not afraid to be bloody and brutal, showing animals killed as in old-school geography books rather than eco-sensitive modern wildlife docs.

But it's the shock ending that set people talking over the first few days here. It's a coup that establishes Kapadia as one of our most interesting story-tellers - a quite amazing, horrifying moment but, of course, I can't mention it. So I won't.,,2160601,00.html#article_continue

BBC on Far North at the London Film Festival

Far North

Bringing new meaning to the word "chilled", Hackney-born Asif Kapadia comes up with a Zen-like meditation on myth and fairy tale, building to a stunning climax.

Set on the icy wastes of the Arctic, Michelle Yeoh and her daughter hunt seals to survive but their hermetic world is pierced by the arrival of Sean Bean's stranger.

Icebergs, yurt tents and love triangles are the shapes; ice cracking, howling wind and the shudder of violent memories are the sounds.

Kapadia's film is timeless and a cult classic in the making.


The Times

Far North

Michelle Yeoh lives in total isolation in the Arctic with her adopted grown-up daughter (Michelle Krusiec). The older woman believes she is cursed and destined to die alone. Sean Bean is craggy and mysterious as Loki, a Russian mercenary whom the women discover half-dead on the ice. Few words are spoken. The twists are savage. The way Asif Kapadia seems to carve this parable out of the scenery is magical.

OWE2, Oct 30, 6pm; Rich Mix, Oct 31, 6.15pm


The Times

From The Times
October 25, 2007

A bit of rough and tumble
Sean Bean says yes to streaking buck-naked across the Arctic
tundra for his new film   – and a defiant no to those so-hurtful Sienna Miller rumours

Sean Bean has played plenty of craggy survivors, but none as
needy as Loki, a Russian mercenary lost on the Arctic tundra
in Asif Kapadia’s marvellous thriller, Far North. The native
woman who scrapes him off the ice ends up sharing this
blistered stranger with her daughter, setting in motion a
shocking drama about sexual jealousy.

We meet amid tabloid stories about an intimacy with Sienna
Miller – his co-star in A Woman of No Importance, due for
release next year. These have really stung the actor. So
much so that Bean pulls me aside from the ruck of journalists
– ostensibly here to grill him about how wonderful it is to be
him – to express his dismay. “None of the stories are true,” he says. “They’re all lies. Damaging and hurtful lies.”

Bean, 48, has been Sheffield’s most exotic piece of rough for
20-odd years. His smooth migration from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Lady Chatterley’s potting shed made him a wanted
man. A nation blushed as his Mellors had his wicked way with
Joely Richardson’s Constance Chatterley in the 1993 television
drama, directed by Ken Russell. Bean’s performances as the
soldier Richard Sharpe in the Napoleonic Wars TV series won
the hearts of Middle England. Hollywood pounced and Bean has
played a glamorous cad in Goldeneye, Boromir in The Lord of
the Rings and Odysseus in Troy.

The mercenary in Far North is an intriguing stretch. We know
nothing about Loki when he is adopted by the Inuit (Michelle Yeoh)
and her daughter (Michelle Krusiec), and neither woman is rude
enough to pry. Precious few words are spoken, but the chemistry between the three is electric. There is an element of cruelty
about the way Bean plays the two women off against each other.
“It’s a peculiar and disturbing triangle that has to be resolved
one way or another,” says Bean. “But my character is not
irredeemably bad.”

Bean is an effortless rogue on-screen, and charming company
in the flesh. He is hugely proud of his roots. He was a steelworker
in his father’s foundry from the age of 16, before he went to
RADA. He is  director of Sheffield United and once dreamt of
becoming a professional footballer for his beloved Blades, but
can now be heard on Saturday afternoons commentating on their matches for a local radio station.

I wonder what enticed him to spend six weeks on an ice-breaker
in the frozen wastes of the Arctic.

“I’ve never been anywhere that cold, barren and desolate. You
get up at 5.30am on the ship, put on 15 layers of clothes and
climb into a dinghy which takes you to the location. Then they
take you back to your little cabin at night. It was like being in
prison, except you got paid for it. Some people couldn’t handle
it after a few days and had to leave. The rest of us became
very close. We spent all that time working, eating and drinking

There is even a scene where he has to run naked and
screaming across the ice – was it a romantic loyalty to the
project, or pure Ran-ulph Fiennes-esque pluck? “The last thing
you really want to do after a few late-night drinks is run stark
naked across the f****** Arctic,” Bean admits. “When I signed
up for the film I wasn’t thinking: ‘Wow, I can’t wait to get to
minus 20 degrees.’ I was thinking: ‘Right, this could be a real

“The Arctic is one of those places you see on television but you
can only really appreciate when you get there. There are cloud formations and landscapes you will never forget. The novelty is
OK for a week, but when it gets to week three and the isolation
is still the same then that is when you have to really dig deep
and find out what you’re all about. There’s a lot to be said for
the isolation. It helps to focus your mind. There’s really not
much else to think about except the script and the character you’re playing.”

His greatest trial was not being able to use his mobile phone
because the ship was so far North it was impossible to get a signal.
“We could only get a signal when we sailed back to Tromsø in
Norway for four hours a week. Everyone would go out, have a
few drinks, and then we sailed back to the glaciers.”

Some of the most powerful images in Far North are haunting
shots of abandoned mines on Svalbard, the glacial island where
the film is mostly shot, and the remnants of shattered communities hanging on by their fingernails. There is nothing quaint about the
grim tedium of daily survival.

“There are people up there scrabbling around for bits of comfort,
bits of food,” Bean says. “It is a culture decimated. You can see comparisons with what happened with our own steelworks and
mining towns. The old communities in Svalbard are ghost towns.”

He smiles suddenly. “It would be nice to do something a
little more light-hearted. But I’m not breaking my back looking for
parts. I think I’m quite good at differentiating between the

Far North shows as part of The Times BFI London Film Festival
on Oct 30, 6pm, Odeon West End 2; then Oct 31, 6.15pm,
at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green Road, London E2 (020-7928 3232; )

Source :

The Guardian

Steve Rose
Wednesday October 31, 2007


Many people were dismayed to see bright young British director Asif Kapadia follow up his Bafta-winning Indian tale The Warrior with a generic Hollywood horror film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. This is reassuring proof that he has not sold out - or is at least operating on the "one for them, one for me" principle.

Far North feels more like a genuine successor to The Warrior, with a similar level of visual and aural craftsmanship, a tendency to let the landscape do most of the talking, and a parable-like quality that is apparent from the outset, as Michelle Yeoh's voiceover recounts how a shaman told her she would bring harm to those who got close to her. As the title suggests, we are inside the Arctic Circle, with spectacular locations everywhere the camera looks. Yeoh and her daughter appear to be the remnants of a nomadic reindeer-herding tribe, on the run from plundering settlers. Camping alone on the tundra, they stumble upon a starving, escaped soldier (Sean Bean) whom, against Yeoh's better judgment, she takes in.

As Bean works his charm on both mother and daughter, flashbacks explain how they came to be in this situation (and how accurate the shaman's prophecy turns out to be). Sexual tension charges the atmosphere, recurring motifs pile up, and the situation approaches a critical point.

The climax is shocking and unpredictable, and yet there is a feeling that the story has not built up enough tension to pull it off. Perhaps it is down to the tricky fusion of committed realism and fantastical narrative - a combination that The Fast Runner and indeed The Warrior achieved more successfully. A pity, considering how much this film gets right, how many unforgettable images it provides, and how difficult it must have been to make.

The View London review

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 89 mins

Impressively directed, beautifully shot and superbly acted, this is a haunting drama that will really get under your skin.

What's it all about?
Based on a short story by Sara Maitland, Far North stars Michelle Yeoh and Michelle Krusiec as Saiva and Anja, two women struggling to survive in the Arctic tundra after fleeing hostile soldiers. When a wounded stranger (Sean Bean) appears on the ice, Saiva and Anja nurse him back to health, but his presence severely disturbs the relationship between the two women.

Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal the horrific events that forced Saiva into her solitary northern existence, including how she rescued Anja when she was just a baby, as well as the resourceful way in which she eluded her would-be captors.

The Good
Michelle Yeoh is terrific as Saiva, delivering an intense, powerful performance that is utterly absorbing. Bean is equally good, treading a careful balance as a man capable of both extreme violence and genuine tenderness.

The script (by Kapadia and Tim Miller) uses minimal dialogue throughout, generating an extraordinarily tense atmosphere in which every gesture takes on a huge significance. In addition, Kapadia makes superb use of his starkly beautiful frozen landscapes, to the point where you can actually feel a chill coming off the screen.

The Great
Far North is the kind of film where its impact will be severely diminished if someone tells you too much about it beforehand. Suffice it to say that it takes a genuinely unexpected turn that will leave you gasping in shock.

There are some extraordinary scenes here, particularly during the flashback sequences. The moment when you realise just what Saiva is capable of is both powerful and disturbing.

Worth seeing?
In short, Far North is an impressively directed and superbly written drama that exerts a powerful grip throughout, thanks to a superb central performance from Michelle Yeoh. Recommended.

CNN Far North article

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Avoiding polar bears and hanging by rope over icy crevasses isn't in an actor's job description for most movies. But then most films aren't shot in the Arctic Circle.

The unforgiving beauty of the polar landscape inspired director Asif Kapadia's new thriller, Far North. The film showed out of competition at the Venice Film Festival this year and confirmed the promise of Kapadia's first picture, BAFTA-nominated "The Warrior."

It is the story of two women living at the limits of survival whose fragile equilibrium is shattered when they find a half-dead man in the snow.

Kapadia wanted to capture the unique world of glaciers, icebergs and snow-capped mountains by shooting inside the Arctic Circle but the logistical considerations were massive. Kapadia was also walking a seasonal tightrope by waiting around to catch the onset of the harsh Arctic winter, which was vital for some scenes.

Stars Michelle Yeoh, Sean Bean, Michelle Krusiec and crew spent four weeks living on a Russian ice-breaker and shooting in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.

Cast and crew were shooting in temperatures that could plummet to minus 30 degrees. Equipment seized up causing delays and severe cold and tiredness caused some crew members to pass out. Four armed guards had to be on the lookout to protect actors and crew from the constant threat of polar bears.

CNN's Screening Room talks to one of the film's stars, Sean Bean about acting in the Arctic Circle and the British film industry.

CNN: How did you end up making this film?

Sean Bean: I met Asif Kapadia, the director, nearly two years ago. I got sent the script and I was very impressed. I thought it was a great story. Quite a simple story but very raw. I thought there was a lot of potential to do a hell of a lot with it and having met Asif and seeing his real sort of passion I was very enthralled by the prospect of making his film.

CNN: It took a long time for the film to be made. What happened?

SB: It kind of died off. Something happened or the finance disappeared. The usual kind of thing where something is off and then it's on again and about a year later he gave me a call again and said it's back on again. I was in New Mexico at the time which was very hot, the desert, so I didn't really know what to expect when he said we were going to the Arctic and living on a ship. I thought, "well, fine" but when we got there I realized just how bleak it was.

CNN: The script doesn't have much dialogue. How did you go about building your character?

SB: There's not a huge lot of dialogue as you said. It's more about how they interact. I mean, there's not a great deal of background to the character. With my character Loki you don't know where he's come from. He just appears out of the wilderness, freezing to death. There wasn't a great deal said between the characters but there was a hell of a lot going on.

The power of this film is that it's what's not said -- how Asif managed to capture the moments between the three characters where each one is thinking, "what is the other thinking?" Where does the shift of power lead to, how are they attracted to each other? That's what I found fascinating, that there were these three people in a very peculiar, disturbing triangle. They are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Their main aims are to find food and keep warm and I suppose the third is to be close to someone and be comforted by someone and to have someone love you and care for you. It is this constantly shifting relationship between the three of them that I found very haunting and ultimately very sad.

CNN: Your character is also quite mysterious.

SB: Yes, in the sense that he doesn't seem to have any history, which I thought was quite interesting. It's usually good to know something about the background of the character but in this case I thought it was good that he just appears like a ghost.

CNN: What is your take on the much maligned British film industry?

SB: I don't really make a great deal of films in the UK so I don't really know...I suppose that tells you something about it. I think it's been the case for few years now that things like tax breaks have been taken away and it's made it more difficult to get British films off the ground. There are films being made but it's so difficult to get those films distributed, publicized and promoted that it often puts investors off putting their money into British films.

The main loss is the fact we have so many people that are talented, not just on the acting side but on the technical side, the artistic side and the craftsman. I think we are probably the best in the world at putting films together and coming up with fantastical stories that should be being told now.

I'm not trying to criticise other countries for making films like they do but you often have to go to the American market in order to get films made. That's probably what I do a lot and it's a shame because I think the same stories are been told over and over again. There are so many stories out there and so much talent in the UK that's not being tapped into. I wish it wasn't the case. Maybe it won't be soon.


The Times article

From The Times
October 31, 2007
Far North
James Christopher at Odeon West End

Throw another log on to the fire because the story I’m about to tell blows as cold as an Arctic wind. The tale begins with a curse. A beautiful girl, Michelle Yeoh, is told by a venerable crone that horror and tragedy will befall any handsome beefcake unfortunate enough to catch her eye. According to my trusty sources, beefcake has rarely been spotted north of Elgin; it would be a miracle to find it two miles from the North Pole. But curses, like films and religion, have a dread power to imprison those who believe.

The prophesy is enough for Yeoh to seek isolation. When the magnificent thriller of Asif Kapadia crunches through the icy sea to discover the cruel tricks that time has played upon the middle-aged Yeoh, she has morphed into Ray Mears: a hard-as-nails beachcomber with survival skills second to none.

The performance by Yeoh is hypnotic. Her husky dogs and her adopted daughter (a terrific turn by Michelle Krusiec) are clearly the only companions she has known for many frozen years. The two women live in wordless isolation. They gut fish during the day and plait each other’s hair at night. The arrival of a mercenary soldier (Sean Bean) is the unwelcome reminder of the real world. A nervous Yeoh discovers Bean glued to the tundra, half dead. She isn’t sure whether to stick a knife into him or save him. It’s an exquisite scene. Bean repays her kindness by teasing Yeoh’s infatuated daughter, and sets in motion a sexual drama over which he has no control.

The friction in Yeoh’s cramped tent is electric. Bean is the perfect stranger, he is grateful, but he gives nothing away. You can almost smell the guilt and blood. Krusiec gets drunk on the compliments of the craggy soldier and melts under his touch. Yeoh is tense and silent; inwardly raging at Bean’s intimacy with her daughter. Kapadia’s camera is always at a studied, wary distance. The scenic shots are extraordinary, though not pretty. There’s a sense of slide and decay in the pictures of crumbling volcanic cliffs and dirty glacial ice. A scene glimpsed from Yeoh’s fishing boat of a grim port, clearly on its knees, has the sulphurous whiff of Apocalypse Now.

Kapadia has had a couple of stumbles since his remarkable debut feature The Warrior. Far North is a terrific return to form for the young British director. He has an exceptional feel for mythic stories and the way that they can absorb and express the most poisonous realities. He doesn’t shrink from shock or brutality. Indeed, the final ghastly twist, though fully earned, is barely watchable.


Asif Kapadia made his feature debut in 2001 with the stunningly confident The Warrior, an epic, mystical tale of redemption set in the Indian desert, which received a rapturous response from the critics. Six years later, his second feature Far North is showing at the London Film Festival (October 30-31). Based on a short story by Sara Maitland, it focuses on two women living in the Arctic Circle, isolated from all until one day they rescue a stranger. Harsh and beautiful in equal measure, Far North confirms Kapadia’s unique talent and is one of the unmissable films of the festival. In the following interview, Kapadia tells Virginie Sélavy about living on a Russian ice-breaker for four weeks, old-fashioned filmmaking and seeing things with two different brains.

Virginie Sélavy: Just like The Warrior, Far North is set in an inhospitable, spectacular wilderness. It seems that for you the location is just as important as the story or the characters.

Asif Kapadia: What happens is that I find a story that I like and with both films, The Warrior and Far North, the stories were linked to a place. The Warrior was always a type of Western for me, that means shooting in the desert, with horses and all that, and it led to shooting in India. This one came from reading a short story that my co-writer Tim Miller had given me, by an English feminist writer called Sara Maitland. It’s a very short short story, only six pages long, and the idea was two women, an older woman and a younger woman, live on ice in the middle of nowhere, so they have to survive off whatever they can kill – it’s a pretty extreme location. On the ice they meet a man, they take him in and this sort of triangle forms between the three of them. So all of the essential elements were already there in the short story and the inhospitable place was part of the narrative from the beginning. For me, the difficulty was, how are we going to do this? I had no idea where we could shoot this. In 2003, I went to the northernmost film festival with The Warrior and it screened at a city called Tromsø in the north of Norway, up in the Arctic Circle. It was during the dark period, there was no daylight at that time, and I saw the Northern Lights and I went on a husky ride and I just thought, this is it, somehow fate has brought me here with The Warrior and this is where we’re going to do the next film.

VS: The conditions of shooting must have been very difficult.

AK: It was very tough. I did a lot of research; normally when I’m writing I spend a lot of time going to the location to try and research the story, the characters that live there, and how they live, just to get as much detail as possible. Also, when I’m trying to pitch and get the money together and I’m talking to the producers and the actors, I feel like I know what I’m talking about, I’m not taking people somewhere impossible without having done the background. In that particular location, the temperatures touch minus 40 in spring. When it’s that cold the sea freezes over so we were travelling on snowmobiles over the frozen sea and with the wind it was minus 60, it was unbelievably cold. Bits of you will fall off as they’re exposed to the cold in that kind of weather. I thought, we can’t do this, it’s impossible, I can’t communicate to someone two feet away. So it was a process of elimination. We couldn’t shoot in the summer because there’s no snow, you can’t shoot in the winter because there’s no daylight, which only left autumn. In the autumn there are no roads in this place and the sea is not frozen so you can’t drive over there, you have to travel everywhere by boat. So the only way we could do the shoot was by living on a boat. The whole crew and the cast lived on a Russian ice-breaker. The ship would be parked next to the location, we’d get off the ship, go by dinghy to land, shoot, and at the end of the day get back to the big ship and as we were eating and sleeping the boat would be going to the next location. So it was quite strange, every morning you’d wake up and open your porthole and look out the window of the ship to see where you were. It was quite amazing, you never forget that way of working. It’s very difficult and draining, cold weather is unbelievably hard to deal with, your brain starts to seize up.

VS: How did the cast cope with that?

AK: I spent a lot of time looking for the right cast. You have those peculiar meetings where you spend half of the time trying to talk them into doing the film and the other half trying to talk them out because you don’t want anyone turning up saying, you didn’t tell me it was going to be like this. So you have to say very clearly, look, there are no five-star hotels, we’re going to give you the best bunk (laughs), the best room on the ship, but they’re not very big, there are no restaurants, we’re all going to eat together, you can’t escape when you’re on a boat. So I spent a long time looking and Michelle Yeoh was recommended to me by one of my casting directors who had worked with her on Crouching Tiger. She said, Michelle is a wonderful person, very hard-working, but also a very strong person who would be able to do it. She read the script, she was interested in it and she really wanted to meet the filmmaker so I flew to Sundance to meet with her and I showed her some footage I’d shot on location. She said afterwards that the reason she decided to do the film was because she trusted the director. She was amazing because she had a lot of other, much bigger movies that were queuing up for her to do and she kept telling them no, I’m going to do this little independent film, and because of where we were shooting we couldn’t have shifted the dates to fit around a big film. In the end, one of the big films moved a little bit to fit around our tiny film because we only had four weeks when we could shoot before we ran out of daylight. Sean (Bean)… I met quite a few actors but Sean has a very powerful face and presence and I liked him a lot. I thought I could believe that he would appear out of the mist and somehow have survived. And you weren’t quite sure whether you could trust him or not, which I liked as well. And once I had Michelle Yeoh I had to find someone who fitted with her visually, who looked similar enough but was young and innocent and also could grow up. I met Michelle (Krusiec) in the States. She’s actually Taiwanese but was adopted and grew up in the Midwest.

VS: Do you think that filming in such extreme conditions brought something to the film?

AK: I don’t know. I suppose that’s something for the critics and the audience to say. I’m hoping it feels real. I’m not a big fan of visual effects, I’m kind of old-school, if you want something to look quite extreme then you go somewhere extreme. I like the experience, being dumped somewhere and having to react to what happens. It doesn’t necessarily go according to plan and often it goes totally wrong but part of the fun for me (laughs), maybe I’ll get tired of that, but at this point is to think on your feet and make it work because something amazing and spectacular can happen accidentally. The opening image of the film when we’re travelling across the water and the ice is cracking, that was something that we shot on a recce a year before we shot the main film. As we were travelling along the sea became very still, it was very cold and it just froze in front of our eyes. And it was an amazing thing to see the sea actually becoming solid while you’re looking at it. We shot some footage as a test and it ended up being the opening of the film. There are a lot of things that happen purely by chance and you just hope that it all comes together.

VS: The images of the landscape are breathtaking but what I liked especially was that it wasn’t just about how beautiful nature is, it was as much about how hostile and awe-inspiring it is and about how small man is in the middle of it all.

AK: Absolutely. That was a very important part of the story. It was an important point for me, it was to show how dark and extreme and dangerous this place is, and it’s what drives Saiva (Michelle Yeoh’s character) to do what she does. It’s out of desperation that people do desperate things. In a place like that any food you get is so vital. If they find a seal and they kill it, they’ve got food, they get clothing, you use all the bones to make all of your tools – survival is everything. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to go somewhere where you really believe that it’s all about survival. Inherently that was what the short story was about.

VS: There seems to have been a shift in how you see nature from The Warrior to Far North. In The Warrior, nature is calm, majestic, it’s some sort of an antidote to the violence of men whereas here the violence of men is very much integrated into the violence of nature.

AK: In a way, this is like a yin and yang, an inverse to the story of The Warrior. The Warrior is this journey of redemption where, no matter where you come from, there is the hope that you can always change. And in this story, the journey of the character is a very dark one. The Warrior was an Eastern, more spiritual film, it was warmer, and there was a different kind of tone. And that’s inherent in the images because of where you’re shooting, and the faces of the kid, of the people, of the blind woman. In Far North it’s the opposite. It’s hard, it’s dangerous. I found that on one of the recces. I got left behind by one of the guys I was following in the middle of the darkness and anywhere on this island there could be a polar bear. Those polar bears are so fast and so dangerous, no one would ever find your body. And you feel that when you’re there. When you’re looking up at one of these huge glaciers, it’s beautiful but you know that any minute now a huge chunk of ice could collapse and if it collapses and you’re on a boat in front of it it’ll form a huge tidal wave, so you can’t get too close to anything like that. I wanted to get this element of tension that’s in the air in a place like that. And the tension is also about who you can you trust and who you cannot trust. Generally, over there you can’t trust anyone, whether they’re there trying to sell you animals, or whether they’re going to try and kill you or steal your food or your clothing, that is something that is inherent in this world. That was something that was important to get across. So in my mind the two films work together. What we’d like to do with my co-writer is to try to do a quartet of films, a film in the East, that’s The Warrior, this is the film in the North, and next we’ll do a film in the South, maybe in Latin America, and then maybe a Western. It’s four different kinds of morality tales dealing with people within the landscape.

VS:Far North is essentially a story of basic human needs: food, shelter, and ultimately love, which appears to be as basic a need as the others in the film. Saiva is a great survivor, and it seems to me that the end is explained as another kind of survival. It’s emotional survival, but it’s no less important to her.

AK: It’s survival but it’s also self-destruction in a way. It’s the act of a desperate person. It’s something that felt inevitable, it was all building up to this ending. When I read the short story I thought of it as a tragic story of someone who does a hideous thing, but in a peculiar way I had sympathy for her and I weirdly understood how she could be capable of doing such a thing. And part of that was the challenge, to try and get into the character’s head, to understand how people can do that to the people that they love and care for, and to show the building blocks that lead this person to do what she does.

VS: I think that’s one of the great things about the film, you really manage to make us feel what she feels. Is the character of Saiva as central to the short story as she is to the film?

AK: Yeah. I suppose what we’ve invented is Saiva’s past: the flashbacks are new elements that we’ve created to show where she came from. But the rest of the story, the two women arriving on the island – in the short story they already live there – the older one, the younger one, and what happens in the film when they find the man is pretty close to what was in the short story. And it had this ending, that’s what really shocked me when I read it. I thought the challenge would be to try and retain the power of the ending. That was one of the things when we were developing the film, there wasn’t a nice kind of coda that simplified it. So yeah, I wanted to try and keep close to the short story and the relationship between the three of them.

VS: What’s interesting as well is that Saiva is cursed by a shaman when she’s born and she ends up fulfilling that prophecy in way, precisely because she’s been outcast.

AK: Exactly. It’s that thing, you tell someone they’re bad, they might become bad. I think part of it is almost like brain-washing people, someone’s got to be a scapegoat and if you pick on them enough eventually they’re going to react in a way that fulfils what people have said about them. That was something that the co-writer and I were interested in. Is it something that was destined to happen, that the shaman saw? Or by putting her in those circumstances where she’s suffered at the hands of other people and she’s always been on her own, has it led her to do this kind of act? And in a peculiar way the story is about a woman who saved the lives of two people and those two people end up leaving her. So she’s destined to be mistreated and to suffer.

VS: Loki (Sean Bean) is a very interesting character too. In some ways he reminded me of the warrior in your first feature because he’s a soldier running away from a life of violence.

AK: Yeah, absolutely, I suppose there is that similarity. This is someone who comes from that world, and he seems to be a reluctant person but you’re never really sure about him. We didn’t really want to go into his back story so it was just this inkling of, is Saiva in a perverse way protecting Anja from something, if she did leave with him were they genuinely going to have a happy life together, or is that something that Anja has created in her mind. So he is coming from a similar world but he is a slightly different type of character.

VS: The two women live in a very precarious situation and that situation is thrown out of balance by the intrusion of Loki, and it’s really fascinating to see how the relationship between the three characters develop, how feelings and allegiances shift within that confined space while at the same time they are surrounded by very hostile nature and they need each other for their survival. Is that what interested you in the original story, the potential in that situation?

AK: That was the challenge and that was what scared me in a way. When we read the short story I genuinely thought that this would be a really simple film. I thought, we’ve never done an adaptation before, the story is all there, you’ve got a beginning, a middle and an end, you’ve got all the characters, it’s only one location, three people, this is going to be really easy. There’s one big wide location, but the rest of the story takes place in this confined space so it should be fairly cheap to do. In a really naïve way I thought this would be a simple, quick film to make. I was nervous about it because it was going to be how these three people deal with each other in this enclosed space. I’m a big fan of early Polanski films and that was about how you can create the tension, about this subtle power shift from one character to another. My co-writer had the idea of calling the character Loki because Loki is the god of mischief and he’s causing trouble by arriving. There was this idea that at the beginning he desperately needs them but then bit by bit he becomes more useful. And then there’s the journey of the girl who’s like a child, she desperately needs cuddles and a mother figure, but gradually she takes over. I don’t know if this comes across but in the short story you were never sure about the relationship between the two women. Are they mother and daughter, are they sisters, are they lovers? You don’t know, it’s not really explained in the story. So I wanted to play a little bit with that where you weren’t really sure until the flashback at the end. You weren’t absolutely sure what the relationship was between the two women and therefore how the dynamic was going to play out when the man arrives.

VS:It’s interesting that you mentioned Polanski because I actually did think of Knife in the Water when I was watching the film.

AK:Oh, that’s great. You’re the first person to say that. It wasn’t a direct reference but three people on a boat – maybe that’s what was happening behind the camera more than anything else! But yeah, his early films, the simplicity and the amazing tension he creates with very little dialogue. That’s a big thing for me, that type of Polish cinema, and other directors who tell a story that is not dialogue-related, where it’s the subtle shifts of balance and the symbolism and the looks between people that the story is revealed through.

VS:It’s funny that you said you thought it was going to be a simple film to make because both your films look very ambitious, The Warrior even more so because it was your first feature.

AK:It’s something that’s always fascinated me, I suppose I’m old-fashioned in a way, I like the idea of those directors who used to go off somewhere with a crew. I get a bit bored by shooting in a studio. I don’t think I could do that stuff or visual effects on a computer against the backdrop of a blue or green screen, I get really bored by things like that. I guess part of me is a bit of an adventurer and I like the idea of going somewhere and learning about a place and about the people. I like fairy tales, slightly magical stories, stories that have an element of magical realism about them, something that is slightly out of the ordinary. And I need to find the place where you can believe the story. I haven’t yet found the right story yet that we could do in Ireland or in Wales or in the Lake District. I don’t want to spend time hiding things or paint them or get permission to turn the radio off. Whereas if you go off in the middle of nowhere in the desert in India you can shoot in every single direction and anyone that goes past is in the style of the film. I like playing around with when the stories are set, you think it’s set in one time and then you can reveal something that tells you that maybe it wasn’t. So that’s part of the world that I enjoy creating for each film.

VS:In the film there is a contrast between two ethnic groups, Saiva and Anja who appear to be Inuit or Asian, and Loki and the soldiers who seem to be Russian. But the film is not anchored in any specific time or space or nationality. Is it important for you that the story should have a universal significance rather than be linked to any specific issue?

AK:In this case that was the way I decided to go. There are loads of issues that I wanted to try and get in there and they’re under the surface. When I did my research I found out that there are groups of indigenous herders in Russia called the Nenets, who look very Asian. That was the reference in the film in terms of the costumes, the way the tents are built, the way the sledges are. In Norway where we shot the film there are indigenous people still but Norway is such a rich country, the indigenous people are very much integrated with the Norwegians and they look very blond and blue-eyed with slightly mixed features whereas the Russians still have Asian/Mongolian features. I wanted to allude to what’s happening to indigenous people, they’re being forced from their land or they’re being killed off. No one wants to live there but often the land is being taken because under the ground there’s something valuable like oil and coal. So that was something that was in the story but at its heart the film is about this triangle of these three people.

VS:The mix of fairy-tale elements and realism in the film is very interesting. It’s almost like a documentary at some points in what we see of their lifestyle, the way they kill animals, cut them up and skin them, the tent, the clothing, all those things. At the same time you have this magical element, especially at the end.

AK:I think that’s something that was easy to do in India because India is this kind of magical place. Maybe it’s linked to religion, people are very religious and spiritual there. You have the harsh realities of life, people are very poor, they have nothing to eat, but there’s this amazing quality of belief, of spiritualism, it feels that there’s this thing above your head that you can’t see. I grew up with a Muslim background but I grew up in London so when I see something I have the reality of what I’m seeing, which is a more European way of looking at things, and then I have this kind of Indian/Asian/Muslim superstitious thing that’s kind of built into what I think. So I always have those two ways of looking at things. Anyone who comes from an immigrant background, or mixed background, you feel this way, you see things with two different brains. I’ve always tried to get that across in my films. I like documentary realism but playing with a bit of magic opens up the doors of what you can do with stories.

VS:Your films are totally unlike anything that is being made in the UK at the moment. Does that make things easier or more difficult for you in terms of getting them released and seen?

AK:I think it’s a bit of both. In a way it’d be easier if I could come up with stories that are nice romantic comedies, it’s a lot easier to get them financed and out there, but they’re not really the stories that I want to tell. So I suppose you have two choices. You can make films about stories that are doing well right now, or you can be a filmmaker with his own style and an original fingerprint. Each film is very hard to put together, there’s no denying it, but it’s nice to get known for a certain type of filmmaking. I haven’t come across too many people doing what I do, and I think that’s nice because I can’t do what other people do and maybe they can’t or don’t want to do what I do, which means I can just carry on doing my own thing. The Warrior was not in English, had no well-known actors in it, it was a first film, quite an epic kind of film with a low-budget, shooting in India and yet it was harder to get this film together than it was to get The Warrior together.

VS:Why is that?

AK:It’s becoming more and more difficult to make films that have this type of story and are trying to be different, or original, or challenging. There are fewer cinemas that can show this type of film, it’s just becoming more and more complex.

VS:Is Far North going to be distributed in the UK?

AK:We finished the film in the summer. It premiered at Venice and then it showed at a couple of festivals. We haven’t got a deal yet but our production company is working on it. Hopefully people will go and see it and someone will think, OK this is challenging but this is something that we want to get out there.

VS:I was surprised to see that Far North didn’t have a distributor yet because The Warrior was very successful, you had a lot of very good reviews.

AK:The harsh reality is that it’s the pound and dollar signs. The Warrior did very well critically and won awards but the industry is squeezing and squeezing. The Warrior took a while to come out in the cinema. You get used to the fact that each one is going to be a struggle but you’ve got to make the film that you really want to make because it’s really hard to take on the battle for something that you don’t feel for.

Source :


Hackney filmmaker Asif Kapadia's career has taken him to the Himalayas, Hollywood and the high wastes of the Arctic, where his latest, Far North, is set. Here, ahead of its screening at the London Film Festival, he talks to us..

Hi, how are you?

I'm great thanks. Suffering from a sore throat though.

You must be busy in the run-up to the screening of Far North - what do you do to prepare for it?

I'm pretty busy doing press and there are quite a few other festivals during October, so I'm trying to attend as many as I can. An independent film like this needs all the help it can to get the word of mouth going.

Any nerves on the night - will you have family and friends there for instance?

It's always a nervous feeling to screen your work to an audience, especially when it's in London in front of people you know and respect. A lot of the crew, friends and family will be there which will make it that much more exciting.

Far North is set in the wastes of the Arctic tundra and you filmed it in Norway. It's a long way from Hackney and home...

You can take the man out of Hackney, but you'll never take Hackney out of the man!  It was a long way from home, but the original short story was set on ice, so that was a given that we would shoot it somewhere extreme.

I was lucky to work with my usual crew who are like family really, and my wife Victoria Harwood was the Art Director, so in a way home was the Arctic for a short time!

The film stars Michelle Yeoh and Sean Bean and it's been described as dark and thrilling, a story of jealousy, revenge and courage. Is it something you felt compelled to make?

Yes, the short story by Sara Maitland on which the film is based is very powerful and shocking. There were certain images that stuck in my mind.

My aim was to make a film with the same impact that I felt when I first read the story. It's taken nearly four years to get the film up onto the screen.

It couldn't have been easy filming in those sub-zero conditions. What was that like - and did it push you in ways you hadn't foreseen?

Cold weather is very hard to work in. Your body slows down, your brain seizes up. It's hard to think in those conditions. During a location scout the weather dropped to minus 40 degrees!

"Your body slows down, your brain seizes up. It's hard to think in those conditions..."

Asif Kapadia on filming in sub-zero conditions

We were driving snowmobiles over the frozen sea and it was so cold that my glasses froze solid. You have to be careful how you dress, it's vital to not put on too many layers in the warm as your sweat could turn to ice as you step out into the cold.

Also we were shooting on Svalbard, a group of Norwegian islands, which is known for its polar bears, so none of the crew were allowed to wander off in case they came across a hungry bear.

In a way, you've been here before. Your debut feature The Warrior was shot in India and the Himalayas - you seem to like thinking on a big canvas, having what film people call 'the vision thing'...

Once I find a story I want to tell, I love to research the landscape and the characters that live there. I love going to a new place as an outsider, being inspired by the imagery and creating the universe of the film.

My aim is to make cinematic films for the big screen, to tell intimate stories on an epic scale.

Far North was well received by Venice audiences earlier this year. What are you hoping Londoners will get from it?

Premiering at the Venice film festival was like a dream come true. I really hope the film goes down well with audiences in London, especially as it's been made by a team of Londoners!

Far North is a dark adult fairy tale depicting life on the harsh wastes of the high arctic, where people are forced to do extreme things to survive.

My dream is that the film stays with the audience that sees it and that they will push others to see it for themselves.

Whether you welcome it or not, budding young filmmakers see you as an inspiration and a role model. Do you have a piece of wisdom or advice to impart?

Follow your gut instinct and trust yourself. Don't be afraid of being different.

There are a lot of filmmakers out there, so if possible, try to find something that sets you out from the crowd. Find your own style.

Finally, what's next for you - any plans for a film set in London for a change?

I'd love to do a film in London, my co-writer and I just need to find the right story.

Having done The Warrior in the East, Far North in the North, we'd like to complete the quartet of films by doing a film in the south, maybe in Latin America... and then hopefully a Western!

Far North screens at the London Film Festival on 30 & 31 October. Use the links above for more details. The Festival's opening night Gala is on 17 October.

Source :


Far North
Bottom Line: An outdoor adventure full of surprises and sharp as an ice pick.
By Ray Bennett
Aug 31, 2007
The Hollywood Reporter

Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- The lesson in Asif Kapadia's "Far North" is that when an independent and obviously resourceful woman from the tundra says that a shaman told her she would bring harm to anyone foolish enough to get close to her, it's wise to listen.

A vicious little tale of the icy outdoors, screened in the Venice Nights sidebar, "Far North" features Michelle Yeoh as Saiva, the arctic equivalent of a mountain woman, who takes no prisoners in her desire for solitude. What begins as a tale of survival, however, ends in a climax so shocking and unexpected that the film shouldn't be mistaken for a nice little outing in the snow.

It will take skillful marketing but there should be an audience for a film that so cleverly masks its intentions without betraying the monstrous turn it takes. Yeoh's sinuous performance as the feral survivor is also a major selling point and co-stars Sean Bean and Michelle Krusiec also are fine. Cinematographer Roman Osin takes full advantage of the extraordinary environment and of Ben Scott's blisteringly real production and costume designs. Composer Dario Marianelli conjures cues to match the haunting and threatening images. 
Set in the northern reaches of Norway in a land that is almost timeless, the film begins with an act of cruelty rendered with utmost gentleness as Saiva sacrifices one of her dogs for its blood and meat. The only human she allows near her is Anja (Krusiec), a beautiful young woman she has raised since saving her life as an infant.

Their life in the beautiful but unforgiving landscape is a daily fight against the cold and hunger but Saiva is not without a sense of humor. The dog's meat is tough. "Maybe next time we'll try one of the younger ones," she says.

In search of food and safe harbor, the pair row their boat down river past towering snow-white mountains, passing an industrialized outpost populated by men with guns ordering prisoners about. Traversing wide bodies of water amid looming icebergs, they reach dry land and a place to camp.

There is a sense of threat not only from the climate but also from the heavy boots of unleashed military authority. All is well, however, until one day a man shows up near death. Loki (Sean Bean) is from a village far away fleeing rampaging soldiers, and to Anja's surprise, Saiva takes him in. It's not a good move.

Flashbacks reveal how Saiva suffered the shaman's curse and how she saved Anja, but nothing is learned about Loki except that he's a resourceful killer. Three is a crowd, however, even in the freezing cold, but screenwriters Kapadia and Tim Miller don't sweat the small stuff. Their film is after more horrifying prey.

Running time -- 89 minutes
No MPAA rating:


Bean films Arctic nude scene, twice

Actor Sean Bean filmed a nude scene in minus 40 degree temperatures for his new movie.
Bean stars in Far North as a fugitive in the Arctic tundra given shelter by two tribeswomen who compete for his affections.

The low-budget drama from British director Asif Kapadia was filmed on location in Svalbard, an archipelago midway between Norway and the North Pole.

Far North is screening at the Venice Film Festival and Bean attended with his co-star, Bond girl and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actress Michelle Yeoh.

Kapadia said: "We were shooting out of one of the northernmost settlements in the world.

"We needed armed protection everywhere we went in case we came across a hungry polar bear. The unit lived in a Russian ice breaker which travelled overnight to each new location as we slept.

"At times the temperature dropped to minus 40 degrees. Getting ready to go on set involved a good hour to get dressed - putting on the thermal layers, waterproof layers, layers of socks, boots, gloves, hats and life jackets."

He said of Bean's nude scene: "We awoke to find the first snow of the winter had fallen. We had discussed the idea of Sean doing this scene naked, but now the time arrived. Sean knew it was right for the character and the scene, so without too much pressure he did it - twice!"

Kapadia said he chose Sharpe star Bean for the role because he knew the actor would be able to cope with the harsh conditions.

"I felt he understood what I wanted to do and he seemed a tough character who would be able to deal with the conditions and would bring something special to the role," he said. Kapadia won two Baftas for his debut feature, The Warrior. Far North is based on a six-page short story by Sara Maitland.

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