Updated: Feb 9
Directed by: #RenataLitvinova
Written by: #RenataLitvinova
Director, actress and screenwriter Renata Litivinova’s latest film is caught up in curiosities. The production design breathes and sings with a fascination on old relics and unexplainable oddities. In few films you will see a spiralling mobile of hand mirrors; a drip fashioned out of wine bottles and a hat stand, and a mouse pulling a miniature carriage. This is a dark fairy-tale that might not end in happily ever after.
Litvinova plays Margarita, the matriarch of the mysterious Northern Clan. With her marcel waves and red lipstick, she looks like a modern Jean Harlow. The glorious mansion that she calls her home is surrounded by thick snowdrifts and Siberian forests. Every year her extensive family comes together to welcome in the New Year. Stitched together over many years but always around Yuletide, the Northern Clan begins to dramatically fall apart. Margarita’s son Benedict (Anton Shagin) brings his new fiancée home for one New Years. Madly in love and seemingly destined to be together, all seems well. That is until his fiancée Fannie (Uliana Dobrovskaya) dies in a plane crash. With her death, Benedict is destined to be miserable instead, and the house and surrounding plains sink into decay. The outdoor bench oozes into a black pile of mould while the money they have carefully stored in the ice fields begins to rot.
The North Wind creates a rich visual feast. The characters’ garb harks back to a bygone era, yet their costumes are strangely timeless. There are nods to steampunk and baroque opulence in the empty corridors and forgotten rooms. In the middle of their New Year’s Eve dining table, a huge hairy boar’s head rears up from the centre, while flowers are scattered around like still life blooms. This world isn’t a mere copy of other directors who are fond of fairy-tale motifs. Litvinova has created a refreshing new look. Beautifully unique, it’s easy to slip into the film as though you can stroll around these vine laden hallways for days. Maybe viewers will stumble upon the white reindeer that Margarita’s niece Ada brought in from the snow.
It is a pity then, in this enchanting world that everything else does not glimmer as brightly. Margarita begins by telling a story. Her clan are not like mere mortals. They have an extra hour – the thirteenth – where they are stronger than death. Even though this is a fantastical way to introduce them, this magical hour proves to be nothing more than window dressing. While the story is fascinated with unstoppable decay as the house slowly disintegrates and the powerful clan falls on its knees, the thematic underbelly of this piece is neither as rich nor as engaging as the beautiful set design and the worldly costumes.
Baroque and beautiful, The North Wind is worth watching for the sheer imagination in its visuals alone. However, it’s hardly as thematically rich as Del Torro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Interesting avenues winking at possible depth are left unexplored. Yes, this might be style over substance, but what a style.