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I saw this movie last night and went to bed without words. After having a
chance to sleep on it, it is now starting to sink in how truly amazing
movie was. You will be first blown away by the fact that this movie even
exists. It is truly unprecedented in every sense of the word. I don't
remember seeing anything like it, since maybe "Nanook of the North", which
would be a stretch. Unlike "Nanook", this movie is shot from the Inuit
perspective, the characters are not looked upon as anthropological
specimens. They are people living in a fragile existence, where any wrong
move could mean sure death.
The actors are astonishing, and it must have been so terribly cold up there, that you know this was a labor of love for the production team. The scenery is astonishing. Almost everyone who participated in this production was full-blooded Inuit. It is a beautiful story based on an Inuit legend that exists on many different levels and subplots, etc. All told on the frozen tundra without ANY indication given about the timeframe, or even century, in which it was set.
I am just astonished at the painstaking attention to historical detail. I have read many books on Inuit culture, and most everything I have read was visualized in this movie, the social structure, the power of the patriarch, the constant looming of starvation, the role of the hunter/husband, the insubordination of women (pre-arranged marriages), the obsession with taboo and curses, the fine art of building igloos and staying warm in -60 temps, and yet, through all the hardships, there was so much happiness. They even showed how the dogs were handled and treated, even down to the way they would slicken their sledge rails by spitting small amounts of water on them until a layer of slick frozen ice formed, which makes the sledges slide easier over the pack ice. The one thing that I thought of today was how the movie was TOTALLY absent of the white, European influence. Their knives were made from caribou horns; they had no metal knives or metal cookware, which indicates that the movie was purposely based on a time before the Inuit's first contact with white men.
It has a slow start, it's only fault. You will be a bit confused at first, trying to understand the characters and what exactly is happening, but then it starts to really suck you in, you begin to love the protagonists, who are physically beautiful people, and then you will grow to hate the antagonists, who are mean and undesirable. Afterwards, you will realize that almost all of these people, cast and crew, were full-blooded Inuit. You will then want to immediately see it again and demand a documentary on the making of this film. You will want to know who these people are, what they do in their normal lives, because most of these actors are making their big screen debut. The end of the movie gives you a quick behind-the-scenes peek, but it serves as only a small appetizer to a bigger feast. Most importantly, your respect for their pride and perseverance of their culture will increase ten-fold
Perhaps the word that best describes this film is 'remarkable'. It is
remarkable that it was
made at all, by an Inuit film company, remarkable that it was shot on
location in the High
Arctic in conditions of winter and summer, remarkable for its absolute
authenticity, for its
faithfulness both to its subject and to the Inuit culture, which
I have been to the High Artic more than once. I have sat in the great silence of the north on the late summer tundra when it turns purple and the winds begin to blow across the ground and make the cotton grass sing. I have heard the snow squeak at thirty-five below zero, as it did in this film; filming in such conditions must have been a nightmare. Metal does strange things at those temperatures; cameras freeze and film becomes brittle and breaks into pieces. Actors get cold and those just standing around get colder. There are no local power sources. And everything must be flown in by transport plane, including everything needed for the film crew to live and eat. There are no hotels and no restaurants, no pub of an evening and the daylight hours for filiming in February or March are very short. And in the summer, there are the flies.
The use of Inuktitut, which is still a living language, preserves that essential atmosphere of complete authenticity; the building of igloos, the darkness inside the communal dwelling with only seal oil lamps, the use of bone and driftwood and dried seaweed for tools and fuel are absolutely authentic. And yet not once did I have the impression of watching a documentary. These were real people, living real lives, using real tools, wearing real clothing, relying on the hunt, on luck and on each other for survival.
The story is set a thousand years ago. It is a legend, but one easily sees that it was a real story, passed down through time in the oral tradition. As it plays itself out - in the slow pace of Inuit time, not the frantic, high-pressure pace of our everyday existence - the rules of survival become clear, family alliances, taboos, social practices. Where survival in a lethal environment is moment to moment, social rules broken have immediate consequences not only for individuals but for the whole community, which usually consisted of no more than a dozen or so related individuals. Jealousy, murder, theft could not be tolerated. The story must not, therefore, be judged by our standards. The only way to see this film is with complete openness; not only must you let the characters tell you the events of their drama, you must let them show you why those events were so destructive and why their way of dealing with it was right for them.
This is about survival in a way that someone living in a city with a supermarket down the street, medical care and central heating can probably never fully grasp. It is not for the small-minded, not for anyone who cannot see past his own prejudices or narrow moral concepts and it is not for the squeamish. Survival is messy; it involves animal guts and blood and pain, it involves you in your own continued existence in a way that we can no longer experience in all our plenty and our ease. This film is also about fierce love, blinding jealousy, hatred, courage and abiding patience - all things we share in our common humanity. But the filmmakers did not present the characters as 'noble savages'. Life was about food, about having it or not having it, about hunting it, gathering it, bringing it home, preparing it, preserving it, eating it and then doing it all over again. All the time. The Inuit are in no way 'primitive' people, whatever that truly means; this is how they survived. We couldn't do it - and perhaps that makes us the primitives.
I was fascinated. It takes a short while to become used to the unfamiliar, the setting, the names, the culture shock. After that, it is compelling, and very, very real. The events unfold tragically and inevitably in a distressingly familiar, a frighteningly human way. And you care deeply about the characters, about what happens to them, about whether they win out - because it is made very clear that they have every chance of not surviving for any number of reasons.
And it is gorgeous. The Artic is immensely photogenic but the cinematography was up to the challenge. The sounds are a whole new experience for those who have never been there - the wind, the squeak and crunch of the snow, the dogs, the singing, the drumming, the rattling of bones, the sounds of the ice.
This film is an experience; if the Arctic has ever intrigued you, this must not be missed.
It tells a legend from the two thousand years ago, about Atanarjuat,
who incurs the jealous enmity of Oki when he marries Atuat
Atanarjuat's brother, but Atanarjuat escapes in a stunning sequence,
running naked across the ice floes, outstripping his pursuers until,
his feet torn and bloody, he is taken in by a friendly sorcerer
The motion picture concedes nothing in the way of authenticity, with sequences that show in realistic detail the training of sled-dogs, cutting up animal carcasses or making an igloo But the convincing ethnographic elements only serve to intensify the compelling story and characters, which take on a truly epic dimension
If the purpose of a national cinema is to represent the culture of the peoples it belongs to, then "Atanarjuat" achieves this victoriously, both the content of the film and the manner of its telling being wholly specific to Canada, yet in the process achieving a universal appeal
The biggest surprise about the for Inuit-produced feature is that you do not
need to be politically correct to like it. It is, besides a few excusable
flaws, just a great film.
It is extremely difficult to transfer stories from foreign cultures and oral
traditions to the screen - the whole visual language of the media is loaded
with subtle assumptions on how stories hold together and characters should
act; and these assumptions mostly belong to "Western"-modern culture. I
think this films great achievement is to avoid much of it. One example: It's
not just due to the villainous character of some persons that they behave
badly - the conflicts are not just conflicts between individuals. It's
rather the entire community that is ill, due to spirit possession.
The film is told in a somewhat different visual language, and this is what makes it so convincing; this is also what makes it difficult to understand at times (particularly in the beginning), but this is the price to pay - it is rather surprising how comprehensible it gets later. The film as a whole is really exciting and touching. It's pace is slow (and I like slow-paced movies). It's solutions for particular scenes are striking - the appearance of the bad spirit in the end is eerie, and the effect is just done by the camera position. On the other hand, there is a sort a documentary immediacy to everything, as if the camera just happened to be in the right spot when the story unfolded (I liked the burping and spitting a lot).
There are, of course, points that don't work out well: The music is the usual One-World-Tribal-kitsch-mud, with didgeridoos and Tuvan throat-singing, as if every "primitive" culture was just the same (an idea originating from 18th century Europe and strangely enough professed by many "tribal" activists today). But, well, it's pretty discrete...
This is a fantastic film made by Inuit actors with a will. Unbelievable scenes with wonderful photography and chilling (no pun intended) moments. The tale may be a bit hard to get into as the entire perspective is given from the Inuit point of view from the get-go. Many Western audiences will just have to go along with a great leap of faith. There is much that serious film critics can frown at as many of the scenes are a bit jerky in transition but the heart of the story and they way it unfolds in Inuit fashion is there for all to see and partake in. I sat spellbound for the entirety of the film and wanted more at its ending. As an anthropologist, I certainly appreciated the faithfulness of the representation of Inuit culture in terms of the ethnographic works I've read and as a movie buff, I applaud a wonderful job of Inuit actors and film makers sharing their world with us.
The atmosphere, the culture, the legend brought to life, the score, the
people, it was magical realism done right. I read a lot of insulting
reader comments on this film, and I am so glad I went to see it anyway.
was long, but it was in no way slow. I was riveted.
True, it did have a documentary feel... but I like documentaries... you could think of it as a documentary on Inuit legends and story telling as seen by the story tellers and their listeners. The effect was to allow the audience to share the feelings of persons in an alien culture.
The score was eclectic, effectively changing from Inuit chants to Gyuto Monk chants, and then to eerie Bulgarian choral music, and back to Inuit. Again, the effect was to blur cultural boundaries and move the viewer away from the familiar and into the Inuit.
If there was one small fault, the subtitles were done in white, which did not always show up against the landscape. Yellow might have been a better choice.
I suspect that if you are a fan of Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" (as I am) then you will be one of this film as well.
This is a beautiful example of passionate film-making, and mesmerizes
from the beginning. As an American, I was COMPLETELY ignorant of the
Inuit, and decided to rent this film mostly due to word of mouth. Stick
it out through the first half hour: getting past the difficult names
does take some effort. But it's awesomely rewarded by the next two
hours. The landscape will take your breath away, and the story will
hold you captive. Underneath the sheer artistry, closely examine the
fight against "evil-spirits:" it's even relevant to today's struggle
against the so-called powerful. What struck me particularly was how
naturally the characters understood the razor-thin balance between life
Simply put, I was breathless after seeing this film.
I could recommend this film on the cinematography alone. Adding in the screen writing, acting, and the simply groundbreaking aspect of Inuit film-making, you cannot put off seeing this film.
Pretty well guaranteed to be the only Inuit film you will ever see. This
the story of two brothers and the trouble caused to them by a neighbouring
family/tribe and some kind of evil spirit. The mystical elements are
low key and the story revolves around the always popular themes of
betrayal, rivalry and love.
If the plot is nothing new, the people it portrays are. As the story progresses almost documentary like details of hunting, igloo-building, celebrations and other aspects of life in the frozen north of Canada are provided. Much of the movies' strength comes the sheer originality of the culture. When is the last time you saw an Inuit man running naked across the ice being pursued by murderers in seal skins?
The cinematography is particularly striking, with the powerful light of the Arctic giving the film its own character. Vast landscapes of snow and ice are contrasted with the confines of the igloo and tent. Very impressive for a first time director.
The film would probably have been improved by some judicious editing. As you enter the third hour your desire to see another set of feet trudging through the snow is a little limited.
Well crafted, full of fascinating details and certainly one of a kind.
No, I'll go further: most of it could not possibly be honest. We all
want this to be a good film, and we all want to be able to say that
it's a good film, but we can only do so by thinking so by ignoring the
plain evidence of our eyes and persuading others to do likewise.
The first thing we must ignore is the lousy cinematography. "Atanarjuat" was shot not on film but on digital video ... and don't believe anyone who offers the justification, feeble even if true, that it's just too hard to shoot on film in sub-zero temperatures. It was done in the 1920s and it's still done today. Is it perhaps too hard to shoot 35mm inside igloos at night? Not inherently so; after all, Stanley Kubrick shot "Barry Lyndon" by candlelight back in the mid-1970s. There's no excuse for shooting as badly as this when it can be done properly and, for that matter, no excuse for shooting AT ALL if it can only be done this badly. The ice vistas cry out for the sensuous subtlety and razor-sharp precision of film. It's an insult to the material to settle for less. Imagine how badly "Lawrence of Arabia" would have been spoiled if David Lean had said: "Ack, the sand, ack, the heat I think I'll shoot on video."
Make no mistake, the digital video ruins the film all by itself. It's ugly to look at (we can tell, by a process of mental reconstruction, THAT the ice fields are beautiful, but we cannot actually see the beauty). Outlines are fuzzy; it's hard not to squint at them. Necessary details are lost. The pervasive lens flares nearly drove me nuts. In places there's a weird blotchy purplish discolouration that I'm at a loss to explain. The lighting continuity errors (and there are many) are somehow made more obvious. And although the digital technology is only indirectly to blame for this the amateurish, Dogme-style framing is infuriating. Some say the digital video is the only flaw, which, apart from being false, is like saying: "It's a good film, apart from the fact that all 243,360 frames are terrible."
At first I thought that the story would be as tedious and incomprehensible as the first hour or perhaps it only feels like an hour promises, but luckily, the outlines of a true epic begin to appear and make it possible for a conscientious audience member to make it through to the end. (It's good that the film is so long or at least, it would be good, if it were at all well made. Perhaps it's good anyway, as it gives us time to get used to the film's many failings and begin to ignore them.) We start to care about the central character. This is by no means the utter disaster the opening hour (half hour, whatever) would suggest. But not being an utter disaster is hardly much of an achievement. The acting is at best just barely convincing, at worst painfully unconvincing, the music is uninspiring, the editing has, so far as I can tell, not been thought out at all and the entire supernatural basis of the story has been muffed completely. It would have been franker to leave out the sorcery altogether, rather than to have the cinematographic equivalent of a half-mumbled, "Oh, hang on a minute, I forgot: the tribal elder was possessed by the Lord of the Walruses, and ... uh ... some magic stuff happened."
These are not nit-picks; they are deep flaws that completely undermine the story's sweep. Nor are they aspects of the film that anyone (except children, perhaps) could honestly claim not to have noticed. We cannot but conclude: the lavish praise bestowed on "Atanarjuat" has not been offered in good faith.
For the longest time, I sort of avoided Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, as I knew the movie was a long one, and about Inuit legend, something that really didn't appeal to me. But when the title became available, I decided to, as they say, throw caution into the wind, and watch this. After finishing it, I'm really glad I had the experience, as it's a pretty amazing movie, both in it's story and the sheer fact that it got made. The story is about one man, Atanarjuat, and his daily life in the cold harsh arctic. He seems to get along well with the other Inuit, but soon, a power struggle erupts, and soon he has to rely on the powers within himself and others to overcome great odds thrown in his way. Again, the sheer fact that this was made, and the fact that they found actors in the caliber of performance that Natar Ungalaaq Pulls off is nothing short of remarkable. I don't know the full story of how this was made, but I am sure these are first time actors here, and they just ace it. Probably because the story hits so close to home. The lead actor, Natar Ungalaaq is to be especially commended for taking so many acting risks as he did (running naked on ice floes??) The only problem I have with this, and this seems to be a common complaint with people who watched this, is that it's quite hard for the first hour or so, to figure out who's who. But other than that, yeah, try to see this one if you can, you'll be glad you did.
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