Long Way North
LONG WAY NORTH, animated drama, rated PG, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3.5 chiles
The main character of this enchanting animated film is an aristocratic young woman with a strong will and an independent spirit. The action takes place in a grand mansion and icy northern regions. Similarities aside, though, this is definitely no Frozen.
Long Way North is the directorial debut of Rémi Chayé, who cut his teeth as storyboarder and first assistant director for The Secret of Kells, among others. Our heroine is fifteen-year-old Sacha, the daughter of nobility in czarist Russia. Her beloved grandfather Oloukine, a well-known scientist and naval explorer, set off in hopes of planting the Russian flag at the North Pole, never to return. The government has offered a reward for the discovery of his ship, but none of the numerous missions sallied thus far has been successful. On the afternoon of her debutante ball, Sacha discovers some of her grandfather’s papers and realizes he may have taken a different route than everyone assumes. They have been searching in the wrong place, she believes.
Sacha attempts to convince her parents and her escort for the ball — a much older prince to whom she has already been promised in marriage — that a new mission should be undertaken. Everyone rolls their eyes and tells her to behave like a proper young lady. Undaunted, Sacha steals a horse from her family’s stables and sets out to find a ship and a crew willing to help with her quest. It’s a journey as harrowing as any a Disney character has faced, but Sacha will do whatever it takes, even if she has to peel potatoes, serve beer, and scrub dishes in a portside bar.
While most popular modern animated films are loud, crude, and manic, Chayé’s is a calm, clear example of the expressive power of simplicity. Influenced by late-19th-century Russian realist painters and 1940s American railway posters, his style has a graphic color-block quality. He removes outlines and keeps the color fills, which more accurately reflects the perceptions of the human eye. This works best in the portions of the film set amid vast icy expanses, and the story keeps pace: the further into the Arctic Sacha ventures, the more gripping it becomes. The sound team brings real zeal to their work: winds gust, birds squawk, waves crash, and ice cracks, making the action seem all the more vivid. Although Claire Paoletti, Patricia Valeix, and Fabrice de Costil’s story is uncomplicated and slow at times, they refuse to weave in a love story, which so many mainstream films can’t resist. Sacha is a role model parents should be happy to introduce to their children — no catchy pop tunes, toys, or fast-food meals required. — Laurel Gladden
A gentlewoman always knows how to break the ice: Long Way North’s Sacha