BIG NORTH (Il Grande Nord) is an Italian film, and the spoken language is in Italian. Non-Italian speakers will make use of the available subtitles. I’m not a student of language, but Italian doesn’t seem to have a lot of cognates that are similar to their English counterparts. The narration is done by a native Italian speaker, so is at a speed of normal conversation.
I could call BIG NORTH a foreign film, but it’s really a travel diary, and the viewer is a companion on the journey. It’s also a trip between two graves. This was inspired by many travellers, but it’s the story of Christopher McCandless that is most prominent.
From the first tones of some resonant woodwind, there’s a feeling that a journey is about to begin. It’s quickly learned that the journey is as much a spiritual one, as it is physical.
The film follows Paolo, a man who cares about his creative idols. He’s also an award winning author, but only brief flashbacks refer to that life. It’s fascinating to see how his favourite writers have influenced his life, and he treats them like family, in spite of them being deceased.
Paolo occasionally scrawls in a notebook. Sketches fill some of the pages, and English passages fill others, perhaps remembered for a later translation. He glances up at times, and one can tell that he’s been entranced by something in the scenery. There’s an unusual attention given to the wake of a ship, the pouring of wine, and embers coaxed into fleeing a campfire. Small details that capture the moment to be relived again.
There’s a moment we see a truck driven to a lake. We have a bird-eye view, and it looks almost unreal, as the truck fights corners to stay on a road no wider than than it’s axles. In another scene involving fishing, it seemed that even the fishing line became a metaphor for lifestyle choices, and fishing had already been established as a unique coincidence amongst Paolo’s idols. He calls water a “Sparkling ribbon”, and that it flows along a ladder “Stopping at each step”.
As the journey takes us further north, the roads pass through places “No one should live”. He takes the opportunity to meet a handful of residents, most poor and nomadic. We feel the sense of abandonment he notes, and a sense of apprehension to carry on. These are wild places, yet they feel safe and comforting.
The narration was especially thoughtful, as was the visual focus on all the natural places. There are odd climate occurrences that juxtapose mountains in perpetual summer, as another endures a dark winter. At times it can seem the the trees are lost in the forest. Tree covered hills appear as green shapes, and it’s hard to imagine the hundreds of trees that are really there.
There were a couple of occasions I noted strange English translations, but I’d chalk it up to the lost in translation phenomenon that can occur. The film shows places that wouldn’t normally be seen. It was enjoyable seeing those towns as more than a name on a map, and Paolo’s perspective was always very enlightening.
The 2021 edition of Victoria Festival is entirely virtual this year, and the entire lineup is available to all citizens of BC in Canada! For more information and to purchase virtual tickets to a screening of BIG NORTH, visit the official site now!