Wednesday, March 02, 2016

NYICFF ’16: Long Way North

In 1917, the North Pole will not seem like such a dangerous place to Sasha, the daughter of Count Chernetsov. However, in 1892, it is quite a cold and forbidding place for a fifteen year-old. Nevertheless, the plucky blueblood will head thereabouts in search of her missing explorer grandfather. In the process, she will learn quite a bit about life and self-reliance in Rémi Chayé’s Long Way North (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Sasha always had a special relationship with old man Oloukine—and it was not because the seafaring national hero suffered fools gladly. The Czar has offered a million ruble reward to any crew that finds his ship, the Davai (which roughly translates as “hurry” or “get’er done”), but it has yet to be claimed after a year, perhaps for good reason. When Sasha finally gets a look at her grandfather’s papers, she realizes everyone has been searching in the wrong place. Naturally, nobody wants to hear her theories, least of all the Czar’s snobby new science advisor, so Sasha sets off on her own.

Oloukine might have taught her about charts, but Sasha is in for a real education when she heads north. Having no money, she accepts work with an innkeeper as she awaits the ship that will take her through the Arctic Sea, where she expects to find the Davai. Sailors being superstitious sailors, the crew is not thrilled to have her on board, even when she proves herself during a crisis. As luck will have it, Sasha will have another opportunity to prove her mettle when an iceberg leaves them shipwrecked.

North is a lovely film in just about every way. Stylistically, it is sort of like a cross between classical marine oil paintings and the animation of Genndy Tartovsky. As a youthful protagonist, Sasha is wonderfully charming and endearingly irrepressible. Yet, her coming-of-age story is serious business. Still, a few tense moments and a tragic inevitabilities notwithstanding, most tykes will keep up with her story just fine.

Clearly, there is all kinds of “girl power” in North, but Sasha’s defiance of authority should appeal to boys just as well. She has a substantial growth arc, which is cool. In fact, it gives historically-aware viewers hope the grown-up Sasha will have the wherewithal to survive when the Bolsheviks starts executing “class enemies” such as her. (Yes, we had to take it somewhere dark.) Regardless, Long Way North is highly recommended for animation fans of all ages lucky enough to score tickets to its sold out screenings this Saturday (3/5), Sunday (3/13), and the following Saturday (3/19), as part of this year’s New York International Children’s Film Festival.