A heart-rending tale of tradition and change, Milko Lazarov’s Ága is an analogue gift in fast-paced, digital times. Watching it is like taking a cleansing bath for the senses, or like listening to your grandfather hum a tale of forgotten times. Lazarov immerses us in a reality from the edges of our known world where the horrible turns into mythical and makes us feel like we’ve known his characters for a long time.
Yakut couple Nanouk (Mikhail Aprosimov) and Sedna (Feodosia Ivanova) live in the remote Russian republic of Sakha, in a yurt surrounded by a desert of ice with only a sled dog as companion. The world around them is equally breathtaking and hostile. Their energy is spent just getting by, ice fishing, nursing their wounds, remembering better times. Sometimes Chena (Sergey Egorov) visits them, bringing firewood, a radio and news from their estranged daughter Ága (Galina Tikhonova), who works in a diamond mine. We don’t need to know what exactly passed between them to read the faces of sorrow, of longing, of hurt. Sedna would like to see her child again, as time is of the essence and her health is deteriorating.
The movie is delicately textured, with unhurried pictures of wide-open spaces and calming sound editing. Who knew the Yakut language is such a treat? Lazarov observes his characters patiently, carefully, teasing out infinitesimal moments of intimacy. When Nanouk rides his sleigh or concocts elaborate traps, the movie assumes a documentary quality that just grows stronger upon re-watching.
“Legs are like family, they need each other,” a character says at one point. Lazarov’s script features a lot of such statements, factual and poetic at the same time. Avoiding overt symbolism, Ága was one of the most convincing films to debut at this year’s Berlinale, a wistful eulogy to yesterday and a meditation on fragility of human endeavours. All we love we leave behind.
Ága | Directed by Milko Lazarov (Bulgaria, Germany, France 2018) with Mikhail Aprosimov, Feodosia Ivanova. Starts October 18.
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