Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Under an Arctic Sky

Under an Arctic Sky is a 2017 documentary about surfing on the northwest fjords in Iceland.  If you are a fan of blowing snow, white-outs, ice, and dangerous driving, you'll be enthused about this forty-minute film.  There are about seven or 8 minutes of surfing footage that also looks so bone-chilling and unpleasant that it's hard to enjoy.  The protagonists repeatedly tell the camera that their hands and feet are numb.  They have  to knock icicles off their surf boards before bounding into the deadly-looking green water.  Although I am sure that the young men featured in the film are fantastically strong, they look like southern California girls with long, blonde hair and somewhat equine features -- they scamper about daintily on their frozen feet on the lava shores of the Icelandic fjords.  (Everyone looks Hitler-youth Nordic, androgynous, and epicene.)The kids fly to Iceland in February when the sun rises at 9:45 at Rekjavik (and sets at about 3:30 pm).  They run into a blizzard, but undeterred, drive 11 hours over ice-covered highways (encountering white-outs created by speeding trucks) to reach someplace on the coast of northwest Iceland.  The highway scenes probably don't look like much to someone from California or Hawaii, but they are sufficiently harrowing to a Minnesotan to make this prosaic aspect of the film, in some ways, the most thrilling -- I can readily recognize the dangers the boys are facing.  (This is not so much true during the surfing scenes).  The lads go out on a schooner looking for "gnarly" waves, but just when they find some nice "point breaks" off the headlands of a fjord, another blizzard blows down upon them and they have to retreat to shore.  They drive some more in awful conditions, having to dig one another out of snow drifts when the caravan slides off the road.  Then, the Northern Lights shimmer over the Arctic landscape and the boys go surfing under that display of green and yellow and pink flares.  The whole point of the scene is to capture images of surfers skimming along monster waves under the pillars and rays of the aurora borealis.  The director, Chris Bukhard, gets those shots but they seem strangely unreal -- the waves are lit with some sort of incandescent phosphorescence, as if there were huge spotlights under the water and the surfers are far from shore, tiny figures coasting along the flanks of the big, glassy swells.  It's the sort of thing that makes you cry out:  "Awesome!" -- which is the sole response that the film seeks to elicit. 

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