Magazine article The Spectator

Palindromic Quibbles

Magazine article The Spectator

Palindromic Quibbles

Article excerpt

I don't know about you, but I've always felt that life is a circle - like the M25. or the Circle Line. When we're starting out, we're convinced we're on the fast train to Amersham, but then we doze off at Euston Square and wake up to find we're back at Aldgate. To be honest, I can't claim to be the first to articulate this theory. I believe it was Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, Book 11, Chapter 14 if memory serves, who observed, 'All things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle.' 'In my end is my beginning,' said T.S. Eliot. Or as Maxine Nightingale put it in one of the last millennium's all-time disco classics, 'We gotta get right back to where we started from.' But the surest sign that life is a circle is the way that people keep coming round again and again and saying that life is a circle. It hardly seems like ten minutes since the last one, but here's Julio Medem with Lovers of the Arctic Circle.

Despite the title, it's not an Inuit film but a Spanish one. However, it is set, briefly, in the Arctic Circle, as well as several other locales. Medem tells the story of Ana and Otto, who meet in childhood and feel they were fated to come together because they're both palindromes and, therefore, soulmates: a palindrome is a pal indeed. As we follow them into adolescence and adulthood, we come to understand how their lives are ruled by circular patterns, linking events at the start to events at the finish. In my end is my beginning, said Eliot. Medem began with a premise for a circular film. The trick is not to let your great beginning wind up disappearing up your end.

We see Ana and Otto at three stages of their lives, with each stage and each episode viewed from the opposing perspectives of the two protagonists - it's a 'he said/she said' story, as President Clinton's defenders always say when some inconvenient skeleton emerges from the closet. Otto and Ana are infatuated with each other from their first encounter in the woods as he scampers after an errant ball. Otto writes a message on a paper aeroplane and sends it winging towards her. Instead, it leads to an instant meeting between Otto's divorced father and Ana's widowed mother, who decide to marry. What a bummer: you meet the love of your life and, next thing you know, she's your sister. There's a great shot of Otto's face as he realises his love is instead going to be his step-sibling. As teens, they do become lovers. As adults. they're parted. They're nearly reunited in a Spanish cafe, where they sit back to back, each unaware of the other. Otto becomes a pilot, circling the globe. …

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