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The Journals of Knud Rasmussen

8 September 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

TORONTO -- For their follow-up to the art house favorite Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), filmmaking team Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn have returned to Inuit lore from a different angle, making a film that is at once more accessible and less transporting than its predecessor. It's unlikely to connect with as wide an art-film audience as Atanarjuat, but it does have crossover appeal for hard-core fans of ethnographic documentary.

Where Atanarjuat planted viewers in the middle of an Inuit legend, forcing them to piece the tale together from verite-style sequences, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is mediated by the writings of a Westerner who traveled the Arctic in the 1920s. While the filmmakers forgo any sort of narration, the viewer's perspective is largely the same Rasmussen's while he interviews the members of a small Inuit band.

Arriving in a community led by the shaman Avva (Pakak Innuksuk), the Greenland-raised Rasmussen explains that he speaks their language because his grandmother was Inuit. While his traveling partner comes in hopes of trade, Rasmussen simply wants to hear the tribe's beliefs and stories.

For much of the next two hours, that is exactly what we get. In one extremely long take, Avva explains how he survived his birth despite a curse on his mother, how he grew up as an almost feared outsider and how he came to his role as shaman. The elder tells the story like a metronome, pausing between sentences and displaying little emotion. "Happy people should not worry about hidden things," he says, and his matter-of-fact account of such mysterious events conveys something of the group's relationship to the spiritual world.

Avva's daughter Apak (Leah Angutimarik) has a different interaction with that world, one that makes her father uneasy: A widow who has been forced to remarry, she spends hours of reverie "having sex with a dead man." In a break from the documentary feel of the rest of the film, these moments are shot in an expressionistic blur, as the kind of rapture a father might rightly fear would tear his daughter out of the material world.

We eventually learn that the group has migrated from its village after a split with neighbors who were converted to Christianity. As the Greenlanders convince Avva and company to lead them back to that outpost, the movie -- which until now has been like a once-removed ethnographic document -- becomes a poignant and almost eerie look at a people whose ancient beliefs are being challenged by white newcomers. By the time they reach their destination, the travelers have used up their food; it's understood that their old neighbors won't be very hospitable to anyone who doesn't come sing about Jesus with them, leaving Avva with a heartbreaking decision to make.

Like Atanarjuat, Journals is not built for the average moviegoer. Its takes are long, its compositions generally claustrophobic and its stories slow to emerge. But it also offers moments of humor, like a bit of frank teasing between Apak and a former lover, and glimpses of things -- the construction of an igloo, for instance -- not often seen in movies. Not every admirer of the first film will enjoy it, but it values its subjects too much to mold their rhythms to an outsider's attention span.

THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN

Igloolik Isuma Prods.

Credits:

Director-ccreenwriters: Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn

Producers: Norman Cohn, Zacharias Kunuk, Vibeke Vogel, Elise Lund Larsen

Director of photography: Norman Cohn

Production designers: Zacharias Kunuk, Louis Uttak

Costume designers: Micheline Ammaq, Atuat Akkitirq, Mary Qulitalik, Susan Avingaq

Editors: Norman Cohn, Cathrine Ambus, Felix Lajeunesse

Cast:

Apak: Leah Angutimarik

Avva: Pakak Innuksuk

Orulu: Neeve Irngaut

Nuqallac: Natar Ungalaaq

Umik: Samuelie Ammaq

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 112 minutes »

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1 item from 2006


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