MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Pathfinder’: Coming of Age in Lapland


The brisk, distinctive “Pathfinder” (the Fine Arts), a 1988 best foreign film Oscar nominee, opens with a panorama of a snowy earthly paradise, a small community of sturdy Lapps, clad in reindeer skins and living in a small settlement high above the Arctic Circle in what is now northernmost Norway. (Lapland was composed of parts of Sweden and Finland as well as Norway). Debuting writer-director Nils Gaup wastes no time in shattering this peaceful image of vast, stark natural beauty.

Looking like a band of Ninja warriors, a group of a dozen or so masked, black-clad Tchudes, scavengers from what is today northern Russia and Finland, swoop down on a Lapp family. By the time the family’s 16-year-old son Aigin (capable, likable Mikkel Gaup, not directly related to Nils) returns from a hunting trip, the Tchudes have slaughtered his parents, his younger sister and even their pet dog. Aigin himself barely escapes with his life.

Immediately, Aigin’s predicament becomes complex. Members of the community where he has sought refuge realize that in all probability the Tchudes have been able to track the youth, thus endangering one and all. The most pressing question is whether the community (or any part of it) should stay behind and stand its ground or flee to the comparative safety of a larger settlement along the coast.

“Pathfinder” is based on one of the few surviving Lapp legends, and Nils Gaup, himself a Lapp, heard it from his own grandfather. What makes this 1,000-year-old tale so timeless is that it’s at heart a coming-of-age story involving a struggle between good and evil and presenting choices between doing right and wrong. The persistent Gaup succeeded in making the film in Lapp, a first--just as “Pathfinder” is said to be the first Scandinavian film to presented in 70 mm with six-track stereo sound.


Gaup’s accomplishment has been likened to that of a Native American actor succeeding in mounting a $20-million production for his directorial debut, to be shot in the Sioux language and with no stars; ironically, Gaup’s second feature will be for Disney.

If “Pathfinder” reminds you of James Bond movies in its chases on skis and other breathtaking stunts it is not without reason: Gaup’s enterprising Norwegian producer John M. Jacobsen obtained the services of “A View to Kill’s” stunt coordinator Martin Grace and his team. Yet at heart “Pathfinder” (Times rated Mature for bloodshed and violence too strong for the very young) is a spiritual quest. A Lapp elder counsels Aigin not to go after the Tchudes merely for revenge because that would only be emulating them in their breaking of humanity’s “infinite brotherhood.” That’s about as good--and poetic--an explanation for the source of evil as you’re likely to hear.


An International Film Exchange release of a co-production of Filmkameratene A/S, the Norway Film Development Co. A/S and Norsk Film A/S. Producer John M. Jacobsen. Writer-director Nils Gaup. Camera Erling Thurmann-Andersen. Music Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa, Marius Muller,, Kjetil Bjerkestrand. Production designer Harald Egede-Nissen. Tchude costumes Eva Schjolberg. Lapp costumes Marit Sofie Holmestrand. 2nd unit director Solve Skagen. 2nd unit camera Eric Arguillere. Film editor Niels Pagh Andersen. With Mikkel Gaup, Nils Utsi, Svein Scharferberg, Sara Maria Gaup. In Lapp and Tchude language (latter created by Esben Kr. Amot); with English subtitles.


Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.