Usually, if a Filipino movie is shot in a foreign country, it is to take advantage of its festive scenery and exotic romantic ambiance.
But this one is very different. Nuuk is the capital and largest city of Greenland, an island territory of Denmark, three-fourths of which are within the Arctic Circle. This location was chosen for its seemingly perpetual bitter cold and snowy winters, which was just the perfect backdrop for this story of desolation and depression.
Elaisa Svendsen is a middle-aged Filipina woman who lived in Nuuk. She had been a widow twice over already. She had a very testy relationship with her rebellious young adult son, Karl Kleist. She had been estranged for some time because her interference with his love affairs cost him the girl he truly loved.
One day, while desperate for her Prozac fix, she met a visiting Filipino seaman Mark Alvarez at the pharmacy. Friendly and caring, Mark lent Elaisa a helping hand with her many problems. Just when Elaisa thought some sun was shining through in her life, it appeared that a blizzard was threatening to cause further havoc.
Alice Dixson had the showier role as Elaisa, a lonely woman whose struggle to make a meaningful connection with her son had wreaked damage to her delicate psyche. Her vodka and her Prozac pills were her only friends in her tough times. In the final act, she had a number of intense breakdown scenes, a couple of them set outdoors in the snow which definitely raised the level of difficulty.
For most of the film, Aga Muhlach played Mark as Elaisa's supportive friend and potential Romeo. Initially, his performance felt rather tentative and unnatural, which was unusual knowing the caliber of actor that he is. However, by the time the final act came around, everything fell into place so well that we understand the rationale of the acting choices he made to make his character more believable.
The third actor in this drama is Greenlander filmmaker and actor Ujarneq Fleischer in the role of Karl. This was a difficult and thankless role, playing a troubled character not easy to like or sympathize with. Based on Karl's life, the image of life in Nuuk was not too rosy compared to living in the Philippines. Comments on the high rate of suicide among the youth and the easy morals of girls further cast Greenland in a rather unfavorable light.
Every carefully chosen scene location emanated a sense a sinking feeling of distance, misery, and isolation. The bluish tint cast over the white outdoor scenes made the whole atmosphere feel all the more bleak.
The pacing of the storytelling was purposely slow to build up more tension. However, there were scenes where momentum flagged (like some awkward romance scenes) or felt repetitive (like those Karl scenes at the bar).
The first film by director Veronica Velasco that I had seen was "Through Night and Day" (2018), a rom-com which she shot in Iceland. However, in this new project, she went even further north into Greenland and shot this psychological noir in sub-zero temperatures.
This was a commendable effort to tell a complex story not often tackled in Filipino films in a technique not commonly used by local filmmakers, particularly for mainstream movies.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."