Long Way North

by Toby Woollaston

lwnLong Way North has finally made its long way south onto our screens. Having screened as part of last years NZIFF, its theatrical release brings about the welcome return of its low-fi animated appeal. The film is a co-production out of France and Denmark and is Rémi Chayé’s debut feature in the directors chair (or wherever directors plant their bum for an animated feature these days).  Chayé had previously worked as assistant director on the stunningly beautiful (and Oscar nominated) Secret of Kells.  By contrast, Long Way North dials things back … but in a good way that compliments this charming coming-of-age story.

It’s 1882 in St. Petersburg, and the Russian aristocracy is in full swing. When explorer Oloukine disappears after a mission to the North pole, the state puts up a million rubles for the discovery of his boat, the Davai. His granddaughter, Sacha (voiced by Christa Théret), is a strong willed 14-year-old girl who laments her loss but stumbles on evidence that suggests they’ve been looking in the wrong place. Her desperate pleas to send out another search are met with frustration, so Sacha decides to take things into her own hands. Fiercely independent, capable and readily equiped with her dogged determination, she ultimately convinces a group of sailors to help her on an intrepid quest to the polar north to find the Davai.

Sacha is an engaging character and an example of girl-power and focussed independence. Although the plot may be a tad lightweight for some, its lack of complexity only serves to shift focus to the film’s exceptional art style.  An interesting decision was made to abandon (for the most part) the drawn line in favour of simple blocks of colour. Its style is enhanced by well considered framing that wonderfully captures the mood and ambience of the film’s various locations, the result being a picture-book style that evokes art from the era (Chayé cited Russian realist painter Ilya Repin as an influence).

Not without some false steps, Long Way North contains a few forgivable historical inaccuracies and a slightly peculiar sound-track that feels at odds with the period (although to be fair, it suits Sacha’s inexorable progression north).  Nonetheless, Long Way North is a beautiful film and although subtitled, it certainly isn’t taxing. So take your kids … they may just appreciate the break from your standard Hollywood animated fare these school holidays.

You can see my published reviews here.