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Blood and Snow
on 9 October 2008
'Pathfinder' is a compelling drama set a thousand years ago in the cruel but inspiring hiemal wastelands of Lapland in northern Scandinavia.
It's the story of young Aigin, his family slaughtered by brutal raiders, and his twin tasks of revenge; and the protection of the friendly tribe that have adopted him.
At times 'Pathfinder' is so realistic and extra-ordinarily beautiful, it's easy to forget that you're watching an engaging thriller, rather than a sensual travelogue or documentary. At its core it has a set of ravagers as hispid and scary as any wolfen pack, and as ruthless and blood-lusting as any horror-movie mob bogeymen.
Gore-splashed snowdrifts, broken bones and treachery are what you get when these hombre's sashay into the Christmas card vista and despoil the divine Panavision landscape you're admiring. They think nothing of killing women, children and pets with disturbing ambivalence.
Led by a barbarous fugleman with executioner-cold eyes, these frozen-bearded Nordic Angels of Death trudge the ice and snow - meting instant dismissal to any-one in their path by crossbow, or when they get up close - elk-gutting knife.
Aigin's alone, and his understandable terror of this intimidating clan is what makes his determination and eventual bravery against seemingly impossible odds, all the more admirable.
To this addictive brew of violence and suspense, director Nils Gaup then adds touches of folklore mysticism. Portents of good and evil are introduced in the form of a legendary buck-reindeer (set symbolically against a flickering borealis) and a cawing raven, high in the sky, as it's sinister counterpart. Nothing complex here, but the effective and suggestive filming is warming and superbly satisfying.
There's something sickening about blood on snow. Seal-kills by polar bears have the same effect, as does obscene whaling in the Arctic. Imagery that just seems to ignite something from our ancient psyches, and wire-brush it against our nerve-endings.
Gaup knows all this, and his film works here as well.
'Pathfinder' is astonishingly good. Relatively short (85 mins) it says more about honour, sacrifice and the resolve of the human spirit than a hundred 'Saving Private Ryan's.
Unmerciful and unbreakable, Lapland's snowy fauna is as much an intended character in the film as the snow in 'Dr Zhivago'. Gaup brilliantly emphasising the setting as part of the story; at the very least on a par with the characters and the legends that inspired it.
If you possibly can, plot YOUR route to 'Pathfinder'.