Without any explanatory title or expository voiceover to serve as a compass (a semi-successful aesthetic gambit), documentarian Jessica Oreck drops viewers into the rough-and-tumble lives of Finnish brothers Aarne and Lasse Aatsinki. These stoic men of the wilderness run a reindeer-herding collective in the rugged Lapland, rounding up gaggles of the animals, which most of us think as Santa Claus’s sleigh-pulling helpers, for both butchery and the tourist trade. In other words, don’t bring your impressionable, Rudolph-loving kids unless you’d like them to be scarred by the sight of flayed carcasses, wild creatures as iPhone selfie fodder and the most gruesome disembowelment since Han Solo sliced open that tauntaun on Hoth.
The rest of us—at least those who groove on process-oriented features in the Sweetgrass and Leviathan vein—will find plenty to like in Oreck’s year-in-the-life portrait. There’s automatic poetry in the harsh landscapes and the many wide shots of reindeer running around in lamb-to-the-slaughter unison. Yet the Aatsinki siblings never rise past a kind of rotely anonymous masculinity, and overall the film tends to lull rather than engage the senses.
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