London 2012 Review: VILLAGE AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Life's tough when you're a teenager. All those raging hormones. The confusion, the angst, the opposite (or same) sex, what to do with your life. Issues universal to all teenagers maybe, but compound that with being the only teenager in your town. A town of only 59 people. In a remote part of coastal Greenland. That's the predicament in which we find Lars, the undoubted star of Sarah Gavron's gently affecting documentary.
Village at the End of the World takes an affectionate but unsentimental look at a year in the life of the inhabitants of Niaquornat, northwest Greenland, as they battle the closure of their fish factory, melting ice caps, a dwindling population, a chronic lack of jobs and an increasingly unhelpful government. Chaptered by the changing seasons, Gavron focuses her eye on a few key villagers; an elder who remembers the days before electricity (which only reached the village in 1988); determined huntsman and reluctant father Karl; refuse and human waste disposal outsider IIanngauq, and teenager Lars. Situated in a beautiful and foreboding part of the world, the place they inhabit is astonishingly positioned but isn't a picture postcard idyll - there's human excrement to dispose of, litter and run- down buildings, much like anywhere else.
Whilst ecological issues clearly loom large, affecting all the villagers in the long run, the piece is very much structured around the people themselves and we get the point through the human dramas playing out naturally rather than via clunky eco-diatribe or awestruck wildlife showcase. Gavron has a seemingly deft touch with the population, letting their inherent good nature shine through. She finds humour without patronising, and in a particularly telling instance turns the tables on the well-meaning but ignorant tourists stopping by on their cruise ship. Their sentimental and idealised view of the village betrays a selfish desire to preserve it as some sort of museum exhibit. Shrewdly the villagers turn this to their advantage, diversifying to survive and pragmatically acknowledging that they need these, ultimately benign, visitors.
Filled with vivid personalities, teenager Lars emerges as the key pivot in the story - on the verge of adulthood and torn between loyalty to his village and his intrinsic desire to leave behind the traditions his forefathers have grown up with. Plus, he really wants to get laid. Despite his somewhat unique social position he's really just like every other kid his age, chatting on Facebook, listening to his iPod and slumming about in his hoodie. He looks on ambivalently as his father pulls in a slain whale or shot and diced polar bear to the glee of the other townsfolk.
Gavron's film is not without flaws of course - the score can be irritatingly (and needlessly) perky, and it would have been nice to see a little bit more of the other 55 inhabitants - but they're minor. Refreshingly free of pretence, and treating the audience with as much respect as it treats the people of Niaquornat, Village at the End of the World is an understated treat.
Village at the End of the World had its World Premiere at the 56th BFI London Film Festival on 18th October 2012 playing in documentary competition, and will be distributed in the UK by Dogwoof in 2013.
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