Thursday, December 5, 2002

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

Yesterday was full of hectic and depressing events, so I cut out early to watch a brilliant Canadian film, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Partly famous because it is the first Inuit language film, and simply stunning because it crosses language and cultural barriers - Atanarjuat tells a traditional Inuit story:

"Igloolik, 'place of houses,' in the eastern arctic wilderness at the dawn of the first millenium. Evil in the form of a mysterious, unknown shaman enters a small community of nomadic Inuit and upsets its balance and spirit of cooperation. The stranger leaves behind a lingering curse of bitterness and discord: after the camp leader Kumaglak is murdered, the new leader Sauri drives his old rival Tulimaq down through mistreatment and ridicule. Years pass. Power begins to change when the resentful Tulimaq has two sons - Amaqjuaq, the Strong One, and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. As the camp's best hunters they provoke jealousy and rage in their rival, Oki, the leader's ill-tempered son. When Atanarjuat wins away Oki's promised wife-to-be, the beautiful Atuat, in a head punching competition, Oki vows to get even. Egged on by his intimidating father, Oki and his friends plot to murder both brothers while they sleep. Amaqjuaq is speared through their tent and killed, but Atanarjuat miraculously escapes, running naked for his life across the spring sea ice. Eluding his pursuers with supernatural help, Atanarjuat is hidden and nursed back to health by an old couple who themselves fled the evil camp years before. After an inner struggle to reclaim his spiritual path, and with the guidance of his elder advisor, Atanarjuat learns to face both natural and supernatural enemies, and heads home to rescue his family. Will he continue the bloody cycle of revenge, or restore harmony to the community?"

The scene where Atanarjuat runs naked across the ice comprises some of the most beautiful and powerful imagery I have ever seen. Both the web site and the DVD offer an interactive map - a Legend on the Land - that allows you to follow the narrative in (linear) space and time, as opposed to the more hypertextual style of Inuit narrative used in traditional story-telling and in the film.

There is also a beautiful scene where Atanarjuat's wives do some traditional Inuit throat singing - which is nothing short of astounding. If you've never heard throat-singing, you can listen to some short clips here.


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