Jingle All the Way?

'Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys' spends a year with reindeer herders

If 2014 has been the winter that dragged on forever, be glad you’re not a Finnish reindeer herder. Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys follows brothers Aarne and Lasse Aatsinki for a year through Finnish Lapland, and they appear maybe twice outdoors without hats.

There’s something simultaneously grisly and beautiful in their work. The brothers and other herders are shown herding (natch), as well as counting, dressing the animals, skinning them and looking after their health. It’s clear that there’s a healthy respect for the animals too, even if the end result is that some reindeer end up on a conveyer belt.

The most compelling aspect of Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys isn’t the day-in-day-out repetition of the work, but in director Jessica Oreck’s completely detached presentation. There is no voiceover. The Aatsinkis don’t talk to the camera operators. Still, Oreck captures an intimacy that makes clear the hard labor, the simple (and limited, timewise) joys of downtime and the fact that the work seems to be disappearing. The sleigh rides for tourists hints at the world beyond herding.

The uninflected images become a sort of guided meditation through a life completely foreign to most people. It’s a guided meditation worth taking.

Directed by Jessica Oreck
The Screen
85 min.

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