“Reindeer” is the latest documentary about skiing, in which the sport integrates refugees living in the sleepy towns of Scandinavia where, in the course of an extreme sport, they are thrust into the world of unemployment, isolation and starvation.
The reindeer are truly dynamic: Then they are vulnerable, then gentle, then grumpy; then eating one another. “Reindeer” builds itself around a surprisingly complex saga of lost lives — the fisherman who sees his life explode, the hunter who sees her daughter die — and up to a harrowing crisis when a “reindeer flu” coincides with an outbreak of the deadly norovirus.
The pace is kinetic, but the tone is surprisingly soft-spoken and observational. The central narrative point is not necessarily how the people of the town of Trondheim cope with the virus, but how it diminishes their sense of community and purpose.
Filmmaker Katrine Bergfelt and her fellow directors certainly depict lovely spaces within the idyllic communities of Scandinavian skiing – beautiful snowy villages, ample lodges and restaurants, handsome chalets and resort apartments, the occasional cheesy truck decoration.
But the cinematography is primarily natural and unobtrusive, allowing the people who inhabit these spaces to become at once the focal points of the film and quietly part of the landscape.
Still, “Reindeer” feels excessive at times, and while the film is elegantly produced, it doesn’t quite match the enchantment of the sprawling, beautiful Alpine images in the Italian film “Swan Lake.”
But the same can be said for much more profound films in which people struggle with their sense of purpose and existential concern in the context of a decidedly less colorful landscape. The bleakness of Bergfelt’s film is paradoxically its most moving element. “Reindeer” works on the wrong side of the coin.