Although he’s warned to expect boredom and bitter cold, Anders, a young Danish primary school teacher, accepts a post in Tiniteqiilaq, a remote village of 80 inhabitants in Greenland. Arriving with certain preconceptions—the “Danish look” as one villager calls it—Anders contends with cultural differences and an unruly classroom, to say nothing of the snow. Wondering what it takes to be accepted in this “hellhole,” he’s advised to try learning the language and local ways—hunting, sledding, fishing. How hard can it be, he figures, to ride a sled?
French filmmaker Samuel Collardey often explores the blurry terrain between fiction and documentary. Meticulously constructed, A Polar Year blends purely documentary sequences with scripted moments involving the villagers. But these distinctions become academic as you give yourself over to cinema that’s thoroughly absorbing and visually breathtaking. Collardey spent months in the village before learning of Anders’s assignment and starting to film. His “reverse assimilation” story reflects delightfully on Eurocentrism as well as on Tiniteqiilaq’s indigenous people, changing seasons, and rhythms of life and death.