The Fast Runner (Atanarajuat)
Directed by Zacharias Kunuk
Starring Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Eugene Ipkarnak, Pakkak Innukshuk
Ever wonder where a young Inuit couple might go to make out? It’s not easy. Besides the mountains of sealskin clothing and gear you need to keep alive, the landscape is basically miles of flat white snow and everyone can see everyone else for MILES. Worst problem, though, is the sheer problem of finding someone available – up on the north slope of Nunavut province, the total population might only be a few dozen people spread over hundreds of frozen miles. Into this world, brothers Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) and Amaqjuaq (Pakkak Innukshuk) arrive, one with great running speed, and the other very strong. They are in immediate conflict with Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq), mostly over the affections of pretty Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu). Oki bets his future wife in a punching contest, only to lose her to Atanarjuat. He spends the next few hours of the film seeking vengeance, eventually killing Amaqjuaq and chasing Atanarjuat out on the sea ice buck-naked. Miraculously, he survives and returns to claim his wife and attempt to stop the violence formented by Oki.
All very nice, but we have three hours of film stock to chew through, and the charm of this film is not the story, but the telling. Shot out in place few will ever visit, the feel of the film is that of a Stone Age documentary. People spend there days hunting, eating raw meat, worrying about spirits, and generally living one the edge of survival. Only one small sign of modern life intrudes – most of the men have long steel knives, the women short ones. Other than that, every element of life is cut, carved, or wrested from seals and whales and whatever artic wild life they stumble across. Long, white vistas are broken only with the occasional overachieving rock or a brief field of frozen dog droppings. It’s a bit hard to follow the story at some point – all the names sort of look alike, and with the winter gear hanging thick on the actors, most everyone looks sort of the same. Still, it’s an engaging if slow paced tale, sort of like a National Geographic special with explicit sex. While it looks like a documentary, keep reminding yourself – these are ACTORS, and they are ACTING cold. And if you need to kill a six-month winter, this long form story telling is perfect. Otherwise, a bit of editing would be nice.