The Bulgarian film “Ága” opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal on September 27th. A favorite at international festivals, the movie has also been selected as that country’s Oscar submission this year for Best Foreign Language Film. Directed by Milko Lazarov, it’s the quiet tale of an elderly Siberian nomad couple living the traditional life in a yurt on the immense tundra, missing their daughter who left for the city years ago. Nanook and Sedna, played with subtlety and enigmatic expressions by Mikhail Aprosimov and Feodosia Ivanova, go about their daily tasks, checking traps, repairing the home or dog sled, etc, all the while making the easy conversation of two people who have been together a very long time: “Remember when such & such happened?” “Mm hmm.” They stare up silently at the blinding bright sky when jets fly over, leaving a stream behind—the only sign that the setting is modern day.
Until Chena, a young friend (relative? it’s unclear), comes to visit and we learn that the daughter Ága left after a fight with Nanook, who says nothing whenever his wife mentions her. Chena tells them Ága works in a mine now and after he leaves, Sedna increases her hints that she wants her family all together again—perhaps because she knows that she doesn’t have much time. All the while, Nanook keeps having sightings of a lone reindeer on the horizon, despite the fact that reindeer have become very scarce.
The film is beautiful and the shots are often composed like paintings, even inside the couple’s home. The brilliance of the ice and sky are mesmerizing and the level of detail in the scenes where Nanook works remind me of the many passages about Pa building things in The Little House on The Prairie books. “Ága” delivers when it comes to authentic performances and cinematography, but fair warning: It has glacial pacing and the plot doesn’t really exist until about two-thirds of the way through. I do wish that more was developed at the ending, because we are left hanging after seeing what we already know from the trailer. (And also, what happened to Nanook’s beautiful dog?? It seems like he gets abandoned?) Recommended regardless!