What, exactly, makes a film work? A good story, with heros and heroines to care about, identify with, and root for. Its an old formula that just keeps on giving, notably in two recent films. Both are set well north of the temperate zone, awash in some serious snow and ice. And in both, the actors melt everything in sight, including your heart. The first, Frozen River, stars the sensational Melissa Leo playing a hardscrabble mom desperate to keep her son out of trouble and food on the table. The second, a Canadian feature (The Necessities of Life), tells the tale of an Inuit with TB forced to leave his family for a hospital stay in Quebec. A stranger in his own land, he speaks no French, and the staff speaks no Inuit. The star here is Natar Ungalaaq, who ran barefoot in the Arctic throughout Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Like Leo, he’s a Franklin stove on overdrive, embracing you with heat and light that keep you warm, and involved, right up to the last frame. You won’t be able to get either of them out of your mind.
Now add a third player to the list: Michael Fassbender, who scorches the screen in Hunger as Irish rebel Bobby Sands, starving himself to death to protest British policies in 1981 Belfast. Fassbender is the real thing; he holds nothing back in the violent prison scenes, and lost 40 pounds in the course of filming. But (full disclosure): behind the beard and bruises, his eyes seemed oddly familiar. Before surrendering entirely to reality shows about sadistic chefs, dirty houses, and weight loss, BBC America ran a supernatural mini-series, Hex; Fassbender was featured as Azazael, a 400-year-old fallen angel so enervated he could barely stand, languishing for either virgin’s blood or congress with the heroine (I forget which) to renew his seed and energy. Pale, with haunted gaze above a three-day stubble, open-collared shirt, and dark suit, he was the very soul of cool. But now all that’s behind him, Fassbender is likely to keep on burning, with a remake of Wuthering Heights on the horizon. Think Heathcliff as an auto da fe.