Friday, 26 August 2011

Review - Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner (2001 - Dir. Zacharias Kunuk)

This is the first Inuktitut language film and it is based on an Inuit legend. The characters all wear appropriate historical costumes and live as you would expect. This is an epic tale and there's all kinds of shenanigans: bigamy, rape, murder, coveting of neighbour's wives, and ear punching. Yes, people taking it in turns to punch each other's ears until they hit the deck. A quality fight scene if ever there was one.

Natar Ungalaaq stars as the titular Atanarjuat. A charismatic lead and generally a very happy chap. Apart from the unfortunate incident where he has to run completely stark chicken nugget naked across the ice, occasionally falling into freezing cold water. Without access to computer trickery, the filmmakers shot these scenes for real. There must have been some serious chapping.

The plot is quite involved, but suffice to say Atanarjuat doesn't just run across ice in the nip for a laugh. He is being chased by some untrustworthy characters who are trying to kill him, all over the love of the lovely Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu). The scenes of them stealthily stalking Atanarjuat in his tent are really funny. As they're sneaking up, one of them does a comedy fall into the snow. Surprisingly, this wasn't edited out and sent to a hilarious out-takes programme.

And therein lies the problem. The film clocks in at 172 minutes. The story is complicated but not 172 minutes of complicated. Quite a few of the scenes need trimming. It feels like the editor has taken any raw footage and pretty much slapped it into the finished film. There are so many goings on that the length of the film is not too much of a problem. I was never bored, it just goes on for a long time. The actors occasionally look at the camera, again not edited out, and this all gives Atanarjuat an amateur feel. Consequently though, it makes the film seem more like a documentary, as if we're seeing the story really happening.

All of the main characters are well defined. Oki, Atanarjuat's love rival is a right piece of work and his sister Puja is, and I'm not going to mince my words here, a scheming evil tart. Their naughty behaviour makes the ending all the more satisfying. All in all, I enjoyed Atanarjuat and it is worth a look. And yes, I do realise she's called Atuat. You can stop sniggering now.

If you like this you could also try:
Ten Canoes, The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Return, Rabbit-Proof Fence.

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