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.

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

2 Comments

  • 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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