Like the Peruvian film Eternity, Ága deals with an elderly couple trying to maintain their traditional lifestyle in a remote, physically demanding region. In this case, the region is the tundra of Yakutia in Siberia. Nanook and Sedna are reindeer herders—at least they used to be until the reindeer gradually disappeared. Now, they scrape by setting traps and fishing through ice holes.
In Eternity, the aging couple have a son who never visits them and thinks they’re ridiculous for not giving up their difficult lifestyle and moving to town. Nanook and Sedna have two children, daughter Ága, who works in a diamond mine far away, and son Chena, who does visit them regularly, using a snowmobile to bring them firewood and other supplies. Chena lives in town, but whenever he visits, he seems permanently sad. Growing up, his father, Nanook, regaled Chena and Ága with tales of reindeer. Spending the night in the family yurt, Chena finally smiles and falls asleep peacefully when his father relates one of his old reindeer stories.
Ága has done something terribly wrong. Even Chena, who maintains occasional contact with his sister, thinks she was wrong to do whatever it was that she did. We never do find out the details of her transgression because that is not what this story is about. It’s about family and forgiveness.
Sedna has one souvenir of Ága: a faded photograph of her as a smiling child. She is wearing a rabbit fur cap so white that it almost can’t be distinguished in the photo. When Nanook finds a dead white rabbit, Sedna transforms its skin into an identical cap that she wants to give to her daughter. But, as Sedna’s health deteriorates and her homemade herbal pomade fails to cure the large growth on her stomach, it is left to Nanook to deliver the gift.
The signs of the encroachment of modern civilization are subtle, but unavoidable. Even Chena, when he drives away in his snowmobile, leaves behind an oil stain on the snow.
Coincidentally, Ága is not the only recent fictional film about an elderly Yakut couple. The Russian film The Lord Eagle, set at the beginning of Sovietization, won the top prize at the 2018 Moscow Film Festival.