Aleksei Vakhrushev’s The Book of the Sea is a hypnotically beautiful study of a life vanishingly rare as the global climate crisis melts the polar caps, dooming what has endured for millennia.
An Inuk of the Yupik Inuit people who live on the frozen coast of Russia’s far northeastern Bering Strait, Vakhrushev – a graduate of Moscow’s famous VGIK film school – chronicles the lives and challenges of native people living both literally and metaphorically on the edge.
Nearly a century after Robert J. Flaherty’s seminal silent film study of Canada’s Inuit, Nanook of the North, the lives of Russia’s and other natives of the Arctic regions are rarely seen in such close up, intimate detail.
Vakhrushev, who directs and produces through his High Latitudes company, understands both the haunting beauty of his native landscapes – the frozen seas, the midnight sun – and the depth of pain and despair that modern times, governance and global warming are bringing to such communities.
the lives of Russia’s and other natives of the Arctic regions are rarely seen in such close up, intimate detail.
Focused on a group of hunters who provide basic proteins for a community of 1,500 souls – most of whom are unemployed and many of which are alcoholics (including – according to the press notes for the film – the son of its hero, Alexey Ottoy) – The Book of the Sea is not anthropological gloss, but searing, gritty and true.
Thrill of the hunt
Poignantly interwoven with animated sections relating creation myths and legends of the community, the opening sequence – a thrilling whale hunt across ice-speckled waters under arching Arctic skies – can have changed little over thousands of years. The boats may have outboard motors, but the harpoons are essentially the same as primitive weapons, heaved by the throw of an arm into the arching spine of the leviathan just metres away from the small boat’s hull.
For privileged liberal viewers all too aware of the sixth mass extinction underway, and the shocking loss of species and habitats in the past half-century, the scenes may make for uncomfortable viewing. For Alexei and his fellow hunters, this is a game of life and death and the view so much more promising than through the bottom of a cheap bottle of vodka, the focus for too many in the shoreline village of Lorino.
The myths and mores of these hardy people – told through the animated …
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