This is a poignant film about the clash between a cartographer's clever schemes and the romantic dreams of an Inuit boy and a half-breed girl. The story spans 30 years and unfolds on two continents.
In 1931, Walter Russell (Patrick Bergin), an English pilot and mapmaker, arrives in a small Canadian Arctic village. Avik (Robert Joamie), an outgoing twelve-year-old, becomes his guide. When Walter learns that the boy has tuberculosis, he takes him back to Montreal for treatment. There Avik falls under the spell of Albertine (Annie Galipeau), an orphan who is half Quebec French and half Indian. They form a bond which is not broken even after they are forcibly separated.
Fate draws them together in 1941 in London. After being rejected by his Inuit people for adapting to the white man's world, Avik (Jason Scott Lee) has joined the RAF. Albertine (Anne Parillaud) is now with Russell, convinced that he will help her escape the shame she still feels about being a half breed.
Reminiscing about their past and caught up in fears about their future, these two aboriginals consummate the love they have carried in their hearts for years. Afterwards, Avik is shot down during a bombing mission on Dresden. On the ground, he witnesses the senseless death and destruction of the city's civilians. He returns to the Arctic as a man whose spirit is broken. He cannot shake the guilt for participating in the white man's barbarism.
Writers Vincent Ward and Louis Nowra use the metaphor of mapping to capture the havoc brought into the lives of Avik and Albertine. Russell is a soulless manipulator whose vocation perfectly suits his need to control the world around him. At one point, Avik enters his office and sees a mannequin wrapped in maps. Russell tells him: "Women are a map. You have to understand their longitude and find how much latitude you can take." This telling incident reveals that Russell knows all there is to know about measurements and putting people in their place. Sadly, he knows very little about love or respect.
Zelda Fitzgerald has observed: "Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much the heart can hold." Although this film is marred by Ward's overly ambitious thematic reach, it does succeed admirably in showing us just how much love the heart can hold in the face of so many obstacles and so much pain.