Frozen in Translation (Film Review: “Journey to Greenland”)

Two Frenchmen, a remote village on the arctic ice, polar bears and seal eyes, and family redefined make up the gentle and genial Journey to Greenland.

 

SnapShot Plot

A helicopter carrying two young Parisian friends (both named Thomas) lands in a tiny, remote village in Greenland, on the edge of nowhere. The two pals have come to visit Nathan (the father of one), who has been living within the native Inuit community for the past 20 years. During their stay, the guys are introduced to the local customs, sports and social rites, all the while welcomed warmly as honored guests of the village’s beloved expat resident. They also participate in some hunting expeditions, sample bizarre foods, and one of the Thomases even tries valiantly to learn Inuit in order to woo a local girl in the village. Oh, and they’re ceaselessly trying to find a good Internet connection.

Thomas Scimeca and Thomas Blanchard (yes, two Thomases) are perfectly cast as the mostly unemployed actors who spend most of the movie imagining what everyone’s saying around them, and their expressive faces fill in the blanks when words (often) fail them.

 

 

Parting Shot

Journey to Greenland is a sneaky little charmer of a movie, a feature film shot almost like a documentary, as its narrated in real time by one of the leads and also because the setting is truly awesome, hence it looks and feels like a travelogue. Sneaky too because from the moment it begins – as the helicopter delivers Thomas and Thomas to the tiny village – our audience expectations keep us guessing as to the ‘real’ reason these two shaggy dog loser-types have journeyed so far from the City of Light to this strange, remote place. Could it be as banal as it appears? What else might be going on? Is there something from which they are escaping?

Journey to Greenland debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, to warm critical acclaim. It was written and directed by Sébastien Betbeder and filmed on location in Kullorsuaq, one of the most remote villages in Greenland. The magnificent landscape (shot by Sébastien Godefroy. . . what’s with these double names?) is wondrous on its own, and juxtaposed with the ramshackle little houses in the village, the effect underscores how the Inuits’ spiritual connection to Nature is sublime compared with their practical relationship to Domicile.

To those of you familiar with the perfect and timeless 1982 Scottish film, Local Hero (dir. Bill Forsyth), Journey to Greenland begs the comparison. In both films, a somewhat dispirited stranger arrives in a strange land and is given not only shelter but a warm communal embrace, which moves and changes him in inexplicable ways. The plot construct is more elaborate in Local Hero, and there’s more to identify with in the locals (despite a heavy Scottish brogue, they do speak English) but the feeling is the same. It’s that lump in the throat when the farewells are said and (ironically) that same helicopter awaits to take them home.

If you’re wondering whether Journey to Greenland has enough story-line to keep your attention, my answer is to settle back and appreciate the small moments. For example, during their visit, questions arise about Nathan and there are some simple yet soul-searching moments of self discovery. All in all, though, not much happens on the surface in this little gem of a movie, yet under the ice there are moving currents of emotion captured in the simple ebb and flow of life in a place that’s virtually off the grid.

Journey to Greenland (Le Voyage au Groenland) is presently streaming on Netflix.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to announce squatters rights on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9txZKyRHmg

16 Comments

  • Bill says:

    maybe shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised that someone else saw the comparison to Local Hero, one of my favorite movies of all time. For some reason, the comparison struck me in the beginning and I expected it to parallel Local Hero, but the parallels were loose, if any. Expected the ending would highlight the contrast between Kullorsuaq and Paris, and then the closing credits appeared, MUCH more appropriate than my ending.

    Like another commenter, we came across this completely by accident scrolling through programs on Prime

    • Norma says:

      It’s wonderful to hear from fellow Local Hero lovers! In fact, that movie has left such an impression on me that I find myself ‘looking’ for comparisons and perhaps even imagining homages from other directors or writers which weren’t even intended. This French gem has probably generated more comments than any NSP title I’ve reviewed in over 7 years, so it’s great that you felt the same magic I did. Thanks for your comment and I hope you’ll decide to subscribe in order to receive each week’s NSP straight to your inbox!

  • Sandeep says:

    Splendid.. This movie is a true mixture of comedy, life, empathy, a bunch of people with beautiful heart serenic beauty of Greenland. Moreover it gives an overview of lifestyle of inuit community and their struggle.

  • Jean Hegland says:

    We discovered this film entirely by accident, and I loved it so much that I immediately wanted to see if anyone else knew about it. It’s great to see it’s found other fans who love it as much as we did. Thanks for this insightful review. We’ll definitely poke around to see what else you recommend.

    • Norma says:

      Thanks so much for your kind comments, and I am delighted you loved this little gem as much as I did! In fact, it’s the movie that has received more positive feedback than any movie I’ve recommended. I urge you to subscribe to the site so that you may receive each week’s Pick in your inbox, on Friday afternoon just in time for your weekend at-home entertainment plans!

  • Kat says:

    I love this film. I found it while on my own journey of learning french. I read your review on it because I am a writer, and I find that I am attracted to stories with, well, no story. I love the way really nothing is happening in this film, but yet SO much is happening underneath the surface with the characters. Isn’t that how life is mostly? Thanks for your review, I’m glad their are other anglophones who loved this movie.

    • Norma says:

      I am delighted that you enjoyed the film as much as I enjoyed reviewing it. Yes, it is so true about life taking place on the smallest of surfaces. Please continue to enjoy my reviews, and I do hope you will continue to offer your own thoughtful commentary.

  • Amanda Turow says:

    I’m doing a french review of the movie and i’m learning so much about this culture and all of the new found inventory.
    Thank you for writing this descriptive review.

    • Norma says:

      I’m delighted that you found my review inspiring! You can tell by the numbers that I take so much enjoyment from French-language movies and series, and when they take us to remote places to show us a people and lifestyle we know little about, I’m hooked. Good luck with your project and keep those comments coming!

  • Vladimir Rasmussen says:

    I really enjoyed watching that movie.
    I watched the whole thing without skipping.
    It was interesting to me because I already are very interested in Greenlandic culture.

  • Shawn says:

    I just finished the movie on a quiet, snowy, winter Sunday. It was all you said and more – and I found it to be meditative and dynamic in the same breath. What a treasure.

  • Izzie says:

    i like this review but i feel like you were a little too kind with your wording i personally had to watch this movie in class and fell asleep after 20 minutes i felt that i had no emotion towards anyone except maybe nathan who has some sort of heart disease either way good review

  • Tamara says:

    Great review! You’ve articulated so perfectly how I felt about this movie. Loved it. Subtle and serene on the surface, like the ice — and there is much more beneath the surface, not easily seen. You expressed it better.

    • Norma says:

      So glad you enjoyed the film, Tamara and your insightful comment made me want to visit this place and its people again! I welcome your thoughtful observations on more films and shows to come. Thank you so much!

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