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Classic Movie Review: Pathfinder

FilmStruck and Criterion Preserve Norwegian Oscar Nominee

By Sean PatrickPublished 7 years ago 3 min read

While watching a Criterion Film on an app on your phone is something akin to listening to Beethoven’s Fifth on a blown out Walkman, I must say that my purchase of the FilmStruck app has been a pretty great investment thus far. This week alone I watched Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda in Daisy Kenyon, my 10th viewing of Bogart in In a Lonely Place and this evening I indulged my taste for obscure foreign adventure films by watching the 1987 Norwegian hunting thriller Pathfinder.

Directed by Nils Gaup, Pathfinder was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1987, it lost out to the Danish film Babette’s Feast, coincidentally, the next film on my FilmStruck watch-list. Pathfinder tells the story of a teenage boy in 1000 AD, a young hunter who returns to his remote home in the mountains of what was then known as Finmark, to find barbarians known as the Tjuder have murdered his parents and his sister.

After narrowly escaping the savages, the boy arrives in a nearby village led by the Pathfinder, Raste, a fearsome man who we are introduced to when he fights and kills a legendary bear. By killing the beast, the film implies that Raste has taken on the bear’s powers. So powerful is Raste after this feat that his neighbors can’t look at him directly without the fear that his mighty gaze might burn out their eyes. No joke, they actually force themselves to look at him through a small, wooden hoop, like a monocle with no glass, so that his fearsomeness won’t harm them.

Raste’s powers extend to saving and healing the teenager who proves himself worthy by being able to look at Raste without the wooden monocle, at least that what was implied, though he does only speak to the boy over a roaring fire that partially obscures Raste’s face, perhaps a symbol of his new powers. Raste warns the boy that he has seen the mighty white bull Reindeer for the 3rd time in his life and the implication is that this means he will die on this day.

The Tjudes find the boy and force him to be their Pathfinder to the fleeing villagers but the boy has a plan. His talk with Raste has taught him a valuable lesson and he aims to cleanse his heart of revenge while doing all that he can to protect the villagers. The fate of the boy and of Raste and the villagers is the arc of the film and you will need to watch it for yourself to see how things turn out.

Pathfinder is a stark and beautiful film. Nils Gaup directs brilliantly slowly building tension while letting us linger just long enough to take to his characters. The cinematography is crisp and cool as the deep white snow which makes it all the more striking when the moments of color come, especially when we see the immaculate white bull Reindeer. I realize as a 40-year-old American in 2017 I might not be the target audience of a 30-year-old Norwegian action adventure movie, but damned if I wasn’t completely won over by Pathfinder.

Pathfinder is gorgeous and thrilling. The mountains, the dogs, the bears, the pelts and the snow are a wonderful and refreshing setting for a film, especially when, as a critic I am forced to suffer so much of the same urban, American milieus. Pathfinder has me that much more excited to watch Babette’s Feast and if that film is better than Pathfinder, as the 1988 Academy Awards indicates, I am in for yet another foreign treat.


About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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