Screened as part of NZIFF 2018
Writer/director Milko Lazarov’s second feature spotlights an aging Yakut couple whose lifestyle may soon be extinct. In snow-covered North Eastern Siberia, every footprint, every cloud, every passing airplane must be interpreted for crucial details on which their lives could depend. This attentive listening must also be applied internally, towards each other. Despite the couple’s long and intimate companionship there are mysteries still unknown. There are complicated family dynamics to unravel in connection with their children, one of whom works in the city and the other (the titular Ága) in a diamond mine, several days journey away.
Kaloyan Bozhilov’s majestic cinematography sinks the viewer deep into every magnificent icy frame, and despite a contemplative pace this movie never dawdles. Nothing exists in this landscape without a reason, and Lazarov’s precise cinematic poetry creates an intense, affecting and emotional piece of cinema where animals, bloodied or mystical, are key players. Important messages are relayed through dreams and meaning is literally carried through the air.
Each image, each word in this story is placed with extreme care and it is a delight as a viewer to be asked to engage our own whole attention. A dangerous imminence hangs heavily over the film, as with many stories set in such harsh conditions, but a sudden emotional finale bursts this movie into a whole new genre. This is a formally surprising and clever piece of story-telling which lands an unexpected conclusion – the triumph of connection over disengagement. — Jo Randerson