Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 6:13 pm 
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In 2001 I reviewed Kanuk's Atanarjurat: The Fast Runner and in 2006 at the NYFF I reviewed his and Norman Cohn's The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. (Cohn collaborated on the story for this new third film.) Representatives of Inuit filmmaking contacted me in 2006 and I was put in touch with ISUMA TV, a website where Inuit films are freely available. Go here for an ISUMA teaser of Maliglutit.

Nunavut, circa 1913.    Kuanana returns from a caribou hunt to discover his wife and
daughter kidnapped, and the rest of his family slaughtered.  His father's spirit helper, the
loon Kallulik, sets him on course to overturn fate and reunite his family.

Inspired by the John Ford film The Searchers, this new, equally atmospheric if somewhat less successful film 15 years since Kanuk's famous debut was inspired by his early memories of watching 16 mm. reels of John Wayne and other Westerns at the community center in his impoverished Inuit town. In this version, no Indians have wronged white people as in Ford's The Searchers. Instead, bad Inuit have wronged decent ones, robbing their two women and leaving a little boy murdered, and a father and son set off across the cold wasteland on dogsleds instead of horseback to get back the women and carry out revenge, protected by the guardian spirit of the loon, Kallulik.

Subtitle-writers seem overzealous in salting up their translations with F-words these days, but this new film is clearly notable early on for nasty language. In a confusing opening scene (the Atanarjurat mystifies in its opening too, also followed by a scene of terrible violence) men are cursed in the strongest of terms for disrespect and sex with their women and driven out.

They must be angry.


Next, we see an evening preparation for a hunting party, a peaceful, happy scene of eating and talking to animal spirits. In the daytime, a young father and grown son go out hunting, leaving an old man, two women, and a boy (who begs to be taken along). Later, following some scenes of daily routine, there is a horrific episode of violence, invasion and kidnapping that feels all the worse for coming at night just when the old man and the women have undressed and bedded down peacefully for the night. It's hard to imagine a more helpless scene. There are rough noises,the ingloo begins to crack from outside, and the adults get up in terror to defend themselves, thinking it's a polar bear. But, even worse, it is human marauders come to pillage and destroy.

The hunt and fighting in the last part is meandering and again, from the outsider's viewpoint at least, seems somewhat chaotic. Use is made of rocks and blocks of ice to hide. The hunters have their telescope but have only a couple of bullets for their worn out rifle, so they must use it well. A lot of time is given over to one kidnapper tying up his stolen wife and struggling with her at various stages of the action.

The scenes of the outdoors in the cinematography of dp Jonathan Frantz have a breathtaking beauty that makes this a film to watch on the largest of screens - though we yet remember the filmmaker's earliest movie thrills were on a little 16 mm. screen. In shooting fights, Kanuk switches from up close to far away, providing a sense of remoteness. A greater variety of sounds and music is used this time in the eclectic score by Tanya Tagaq and Chris Crilly. As before in Kunuk's films, a certain crudity, the inexperience of the non-actor cast, is compensated for by the intensity of the settings , the intense ethnographic flavor. This time I was particularly struck by the spectacular old fashioned fur garments. They are beautifully made: I hope they are as warm as they look. Traditional Inuit life in its snow swept far north world feels awesomely stark and challenging - and yet also paradoxically cozy and intimate, and even sexy. There's an implication that some of the women slept around. And that was how all the trouble started.

Maliglutit/The Searchers , in the Inuktitut language, 94 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2016, playing also at Palm Springs, Portland, Kingston, and San Francisco; screened at San Francisco. 14 April 2017.
Showtimes in the SFIFF will be Apr. 14 at 8:30pm at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room; Apr. 16 at1:30 pm at Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive; Apr. 18 at 1 pm at Victoria Theater, San Francisco.


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