Cult New Zealand director Vincent Ward (THE NAVIGATOR) pushes perhaps a little too hard for popularity with this oddly truncated, though engrossing, epic.
Young Avik (Robert Joamie) is a mixed white-Inuit boy living with his grandmother (Jayko Pitseolak) in the Arctic Canadian settlement of Nunataaq in 1931. He attaches himself to a British cartographer passing through, Walter Russell (Patrick Bergin), who feels guilty when Avik contracts the
"white man's disease," tuberculosis, and takes the youngster to recuperate at a clinic in Montreal. There he falls in love with a mixed white-Indian girl, Albertine (Annie Galipeau), but they are soon separated by the Catholic clinic's strict Mother Superior (Jeanne Moreau).
Some years later, back in his village, the teenaged Avik is shocked when Russell makes a return visit, this time on a secret mission, about which he lies to Avik, to find the wreck of a German U-boat which has foundered near Avik's village. Russell invites Avik to come back with him, learn
cartography, and join the war effort. Avik refuses, in order to care for his grandmother, but he gives Russell an X-ray of Albertine he has carried with him from the clinic and asks Russell to find her and give it to her.
More years pass, and following his grandmother's death, a grown Avik (Jason Scott Lee) becomes a bombardier for the British in WWII who's so proficient his crew has named their plane Holy Boy after Avik's exclamation of choice when he's excited. Avik has reason to be excited when a grown-up
Albertine (Anne Parillaud), now an analyst of the photos Avik takes of his bombing runs, seeks him out. But Avik's joy turns to grief when he realizes that she is now also Russell's mistress. They nevertheless have an affair and, in revenge, Russell has Avik's crew sent on the bombing of Dresden
after they have already flown enough missions to be sent home. The Holy Boy completes its mission but is hit, and all aboard are killed except Avik, who parachutes into the burning city.
Devastated when he sees the wholesale slaughter he has been party to, Avik leaves Albertine behind and returns to Canada, where he becomes a cartographer for an oil company and a drunk. Many years later, Rainee (Clotilde Courau), the daughter born from their affair, seeks him out and asks him to
give her away at her wedding. But on his way to the ceremony, Avik crashes his snowmobile on an ice floe and, as the waters slowly wash over him, he imagines himself floating away in a balloon with Albertine. His body later washes ashore near Nunataaq, still carrying a wedding gift and a message
of love to his daughter.
Like any romance that rises above pulp travesty, MAP has a bristling intelligence to it that makes the head race as much as the heart. Drawing on his background as a documentarian, Ward exhibits utter control of his material, though with a keen empathy that makes it seem as if the story is
unfolding naturally in a series of privileged moments. In other words, MAP is a film so artful it almost seems artless.
The cast is inspired. Joamie's and Galipeau's performances are uncannily natural. Lee and Parillaud are amazing, especially Lee, who may be the first actor ever to act under layers of latex aging makeup not only without making a fool of himself, but with a poignant grace and dignity. Parillaud
has been earthily alluring elsewhere. Here she is almost elemental, a force of nature to which any man would gladly submit himself. Bergin further cements his status as the screen's leading seductive scoundrel, and Moreau is brilliant in an extended cameo (in a role not unlike her cameo with
Parillaud in LA FEMME NIKITA) that resonates through the film. (Adult situations, sexual situations, nudity, violence.)
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