Love as I know it | Los amantes del Circulo Polar (1998)

Try following any “10 steps to a successful relationship” article shared by your friends, and you’ll come across an extensive list of inspirational advice. All these pieces of wisdom have something in common: the hope to deliver shortcuts to love, applicable by any individual, in any relationship, in any given case.

As the new wave of romanticizing love fails to stir any particular thrills in me, I went back to the old-school one: glorifying love and its conventions, but keeping the characters close to reality — no substitutes for unrequited love. Such is the case of Los Amantes del Circulo Polar (Lovers of the Arctic Circle), a film by Julio Medem, which tells the story of Ana (Najwa Nimri) and Otto (Fele Martinez). The two characters not only share palindrome names, but also the need to seek refuge inside places and symbols, hoping to escape from an ordinary life which is bound to engulf them.

While most romantic dramas tackle the idea of falling in love as a result of unexpected coincidences, they also ostentatiously follow the same patterns (as characters try to ignore their feelings for each other, they end up together through a sequence of coinciding events). In such movies, love decides the outcome for the couple, and not reasoning. Medem contradicts this traditional approach and seeks to reconsider it. The result of this is the notion of how hopes and wishes should be separated from our everyday reality. These two stances are regularly exploited through cinematography — with the help of symbolic insertions, Medem lets his characters surrender to their feelings, suggesting that actions and events driven only by feelings do not belong to reality, nor determine the ultimate truth.

The plot of the film defined by the dynamic between cynicism and hope, before any other love story. First reflected through the eyes of grownups (Anna and Otto’s parents), love seems to be closely tied to life (based on characters’ philosophical take on it) yet is conditioned by life and its responsibilities. What I liked about this idea is that no character fights or confronts against life taking control over their hopes. They know that love is bound to have an end, just like life of an individual, therefore they act accordingly to this truth. Unconditional love gets one exception though-through the eyes of young Otto love persists through his unbreakable bond with his mother, a tie upon which Medem will not impose any other constraints.

When it comes to the notion of lovers, the movie returns to the view over life — that everything has a beginning and an end. Anna and Otto may be the main characters of the movie, but all captured relationships seem to have one thing in common: mixing passion with turbulence, rather than associating passion with fulfilment. One of the main feelings on which Anna and Otto delve into is the accumulation of loss-the loss that both of them face throughout the movie is part of the inevitability of controlling change, rather than the inevitability of them ageing, or losing their feelings in time.

With Amantes del Circulo Polar, casualty becomes more profound and articulate than falling in love. But it is just as powerful, if you look closely at what it’s made of. The film seeks to point out how loss is inseparable from love, harnessing the level of compromises one can make to be loved. It does not leave out elements of melodrama, yet it gracefully and competently manages to shape it in a way that leaves you satisfied, reconciled, and hopeful-loving all, bearing all.

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