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FILMS Switzerland

Thule Tuvalu, two villages dangerously stuck between ice and sea


- The best film at the last international edition of Visions du réel in Nyon forces reflection on a disquietingly modern theme

Thule Tuvalu, two villages dangerously stuck between ice and sea

Even if for many, the problem still seems to be one that only exists in the minds of some scientists, for the residents of Thule and Tuvalu, global warming has now become a real monster which needs to be confronted.  

In line with the theme during the last edition of Visions du réel, it is love (in a broad sense), which seemed to define Matthias von Gunten’s latest film. Love for the earth, for its traditions, its culture – those are the only reasons pushing the main characters in Thule Tuvalu to fight on a daily basis against the whims of nature, for whom they have great respect, but which they increasingly struggle to understand. 

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At first glance, little seems to unite both places. They are so far apart: one at the very northern part of Greenland, surrounded by ice and almost mythological-like animals like the narwhal, which looks like a polar unicorn, and the other, a village lost in the middle of the Pacific, a little piece of land drenched by the sun by the Polynesian coast. And yet, despite the great distance, Thule and Tuvalu find themselves united by a common problem: global warming, which weighs above their heads like a Damocles sword.

Even if the unstoppable natural phenomenon is what unites the two places in a common destiny, we realise as the film unfolds that the similarities reach far beyond. Methods to get food could not be more different: to the north, hunters on sleds rule on the ice, while to the south, canoes and spades are the main features. The sea remains the main focus for both though, even if it is slowly going from miracle worker to formidable adversary. For both these longstanding people, who have lived for hundreds of years in tune with nature, the melting of ice and rising of the sea represents the loss of their identity as people.

Whether it is between the ice blocks of Greenland, or the increasingly flooded coasts of the Pacific, von Gunten’s eyes go deep into the lives of inhabitants. Thanks to an editing process, which was intelligently carried out, the spectator is seamlessly taken from north to south, in a spectacular journey, which brings us to face the consequences of our consumer society. Thule Tuvalu forces us to experience, together with the main characters, the impact climate change is having on their lives and the way in which they perceive it. Day after day, we witness these people’s struggle to remain hopeful and not be taken over by rage.  

The narration of Thule Tuvalu develops around the lives and testimonials of two people (there is no guiding outside voice), who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The muting of nature is experienced through their eyes and skin, making them human barometers. The precarious balance is listened to, scrutinised and sought out in Thule and in Tuvalu, almost scientifically. The almost imperceptible sound of the ice melting and of the waves breaking take on a prophetic-like meaning. A work of sound by Valentino Vignati, which becomes a character too - giving life to an adventure as scary as it is inevitable.

Thule Tuvalu is being sold across the world by Accent Films International.

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(Translated from Italian)

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