You can see why this Inuit legend won the Camera d’Or at Cannes–it’s filmed entirely in the Arctic community of Igloolik, a place of staggering, otherworldly wonder. And everything about the film combines to carry us to a time and place far from our experience. Yet the story is a universally powerful examination of human interaction.
At the center are the strong Amaqjuaq (Innushuk) and the fast Atanarjuat (Ungalaaq), brothers who stick together even as evil gets a foothold in their community through the hapless leader Sauri (Ipkarnak), his conniving daughter Puja (Tulugarjuk) and his bully of a son Oki (Arnatriaq), who quickly starts picking on Atanarjuat, simply because he’s not as strong. Over the years Oki and Puja virtually destroy Atanarjuat’s family from every side, but he and his wife Atuat (Ivalu) know that there are more important things than the need for visceral vengeance.
The story is a thousand years old and has been carefully reconstructed based on oral traditions and historical artefacts. What emerges is not only a vivid examination of a time and place, but a deeply moving story about revenge and restoration. The strongly identifiable themes and characters contrast beautifully with the astonishing grittiness of the setting and culture. It’s a real eye-opener in every conceivable way, and as a result the characters spring to life memorably while the issues being examined pack a solid punch. It’s absolutely stunning–both mythical and achingly real. Yes, it’s very long, it sometimes isn’t easy to keep characters apart, and it’s all told in muted Inuit dialog and expressions. But stick with it and the rewards are huge. This is still gorgeous, must-see filmmaking.