Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Movie Review: Atanarjuat the Fast Runner

Atanarjuat the Fast Runner 
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Canada Television and Cable Production Fund License Program, Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, Canadian Government, Canadian Television, Channel 24 Igloolik, Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc., National Film Board of Canada, Telefilms Equity Investment Program, Vision Television, Canada, 2001. 
Atanarjuat the Fast Runner title
Based on thousand year old Inuit legend that was passed down through oral tradition. 

(The beginning is quite murky, so I had to check the beginning of the plot from Wikipedia)

Good shaman Qulitalik (Pauloosie Qulitalik) leaves. He promises his sister Panikpak (Madeline Ivalu) that he will return some day is she needs help. Panikpak is also camp leader Kumaglak's (Apayata Kotierk) wife. Then something evil happens. Mysterious evil shaman Tungajuaq (Abraham Ulayuruluk) has arrived in the camp. Kumaglak dies in a spiritual duel with the shaman and leader's necklace is given to his son Sauri (Eric Nutarariaq). Sauri killed his father with shaman. Young Tulimaq (Stephen Qrunnut) openly accuses Sauri. 
Qulitalik is leaving
Some years later Tulimaq (Felix Alaralak) has become the laughing stock of the tribe. His hunting luck is bad because of the shaman's curse. He has trouble feeding his two sons Amaqjuaq and Atanarjuat and wife Pittaluk (Pipily Akkitirq). Panikpak secretly helps the family by bringing food to Tulimaq's sons. 

When Amaqjuaq (Pakak Innuksuk) and Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) have grown up, they are bullied by Sauri's son Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq) and his gang. Amaqjuaq is strong and Atanarjuat runs fast so they can beat the bullies. Oki is betrothed to Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu), but she likes Atanarjuat instead. Also Oki's sister Puja (Lucy Tulugarjuk) likes Atanarjuat and uses every change to try to seduce him. 
Pakak Innuksuk
Natar Ungalaaq
Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq
Oki and Atanarjuat duel for the right to marry Atuat. Both take turns to punch opponent in the head and he who is knocked out loses. Atanarjuat sees vision of Qulitalik and wins. Atanarjuat and Atuat are married. Their happiness is short-lived as Atarnarjuat is sent to hunt Caribou. On his way he stops at Sauri's camp. Puja is sent to help Atarnarjuat. What do you know, soon Atarnarjuat has two wives. 
Sylvia Ivalu
Lucy Tulugarjuk
Marrying Puja breaks the harmony of Atanarjuat's and Amaqjuaq's families. Puja's actions cause Oki to attempt murdering Atanarjuat. However they kill Amaqjuaq and Atanarjuat has to flee running naked through the icy landscape. Qulitalik's family hides him. Then Atanarjuat plans for revenge! He must punish the evildoers, save Atuat and banish the evil spirit.
Natar Ungalaaq
Atanarjuat has to flee
This was the first Inuktitut-language feature film with real Inuit actors. This gives it authentic and naturalistic look with some mysticism, as was also the case with New Zealand made "The Silent One" that was set in the Pacific Islands. At the same time "Atanarjuat" is a description of Inuit way of life and a epic folk tale. Living in the harsh environment requires co-operation and the conflicts are resolved in a ritualistic way. When the conflicts have been resolved life returns to normal. Watching it requires patience as the story moves on with very slow pace and the minimalistic style is unconventional compared to main stream movies. Still the story has universal themes of love, jealousy, greed, betrayal and power struggles. The movie has documentary feel with Inuit traditions and culture, igloo building and Inuit throat singing. It is like watching the human prehistory. As the Inuits are on Paleo diet it will never be popular film for vegans! 

There are also the familiar snow goggles that can sometimes be spotted previously in popular culture:
Oki wearing snow goggles
Visually the film looks beautiful with "Dersu Uzala" style shots of glaciers and tundra. As a cultural depiction it is an important film. On the negative side the beginning is quite confusing, and it is hard to identify the characters who wear similar clothes. Also the movie could have benefited from some condensing as it is now almost three hours. 
Rating: Very good

Starring: Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Madeline Ivalu, Pauloosie Qulitalik, Eugene Ipkarnak, Pakak Innuksuk, Neeve Irngaut, Abraham Ulayuruluk, Apayata Kotierk, Mary Qulitalik, Luke Taqqaugaq, Alex Uttak, Eric Nutarariaq, Stephen Qrunnut, Pipily Akkitirq, Mary Angutautuk, Charlie Qulitalik, Atuat Akkitiq, Catherine Alaralak, Susan Kublu, Samueli Ammaq, Micheline Ammaq, Lucien Ukkalianuk, Therese Ukkalianuk, Felix Alaralak, Elizabeth Nutarakittuq, Jenny Irngaut, Rita Ijjiraq, Andrew Uyarasuk, Cindy Paniaq, Lou Paula Kunuk, Maggie Ukkalianuk, Arsene Ivalu, Racheal Uyarasuk, Catherine Arnatsiaq, Reena Qulitalik, Bernice Ivalu, Mark Alaralak, Isa Akkitirq, Laurent Arnatsiaq, Isa Ammaq, Cora Akkitirq, Steven Akkitirq, Wilma Ammaq, Daniel Akkitirq, Hayley-June Ammaq, Colleen Ulayuruluk, Andrew Micheli 
Director: Zacharias Kunuk

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