For each of the features in competition, IFFR asked a critic, writer, academic or programmer to write a short reflection in a personal capacity. The resulting series of ‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Evgeny Gusyatinskiy shines a light on The North Wind.
The North Wind is one of the most original New Year’s Eve fairy tales of the past decades. To say the least, it will make you forget all others. Like an actual New Year’s celebration, a ritual crucial for the film’s repetition-based structure, Renata Litvinova’s third feature offers an epic farewell to old times − while simultaneously recreating them from scratch, as if they were new and previously non-existent.
Litvinova's universe, already palpable in her feature debut, Goddess (2004), and later in The Last Tale of Rita (2012), unfolds as a private, bottomless Noah’s Ark full of extraordinary playful treasures. In The North Wind these are presented on a new scale, ranging from hand-made wooden toys to luxurious antique chandeliers, luminescent diamonds, outlandish costumes designed by Demna Gvasalia, head of Balenciaga head and founder of Vetements, retro vehicles, and quasi-medieval torture masks. Not to mention the animals − cats, dogs, deer, mice − and humans, of course, who together form the huge family of matriarch Margarita, played by Litvinova herself.
Kira Muratova, who discovered Litvinova as a scriptwriter, actress and muse, used to portray humans as animals, and vice versa. Paying homage to Muratova, Litvinova plays a similar trick with people and objects. In The North Wind, all those peculiar toys, mechanisms, outfits, accessories and the grand setting itself function as equally essential characters.
This excessive, baroque world is located in a snow-covered winter landscape. It is also slowly falling apart, for Margarita’s family is losing its grandeur year by year and their exuberant mansion is getting rusty and darker. Can this process of ‘dying gorgeously’ last forever? Do we actually know how old these characters are? Immortal they are certainly not: (im)mortality is an issue that has preoccupied Litvinova since her first mid-length film, There Is No Death for Me (2000). But clearly, they have been living for a very long time. Like the clan's old money, safely buried in the ground, the world of The North Wind is rooted deeply in a mythical past, locked in a circle of repetition, symbolising time itself.
On the other hand, Litvinova is too free-spirited to follow the rules of any myth or ritual, even of her own making. Margarita, her onscreen alter ego, destroys the family she commands in order to free herself, to meet her love – or perhaps to meet her ultimate loneliness? – whilst Litvinova the filmmaker manages to uplift and re-root her own universe, as if there were never any background, no fairy tales or myths, no films. This audacious, fundamental freedom is at the core of her talent, and it is the turbulent force that inspires and rocks The North Wind, elevating it high above the cold ground from which it originates.
Evgeny Gusyatinskiy is a programmer at IFFR, focusing on films from Russia and Eastern Europe.
‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Discover more short reflections on the features in competition.