Dirs/scr:Zacharis Kunuk, NormanCohn. Can-Den. 2006. 112mins.
The combination of an opening night slotin Toronto and the pressure of following up on their justly heralded debut Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner - which won Cannes'Camera d'Or in 2001 - provide film-makers Zacharis Kunuk and Norman Cohenwith a searing spotlight for their new feature The Journals Of Knud Rasmussen. But whileit avoids the bane of the "terrible twos," their second work nevertheless lacksthe novelty and cohesion of the production that brought them to prominence.
The sweeping sagaof an Inuit tribe's first encounter with the white man in the 1920s is a slowstarter that ultimately packs a devastating conclusion. Nonetheless, commercialresponse and sales in niche play won't be as potent and critical support is aptto be lukewarm rather than embracing.
The title itselfis misleading; suggesting that the real life Arctic explorer and ethnographer would minimally be setting the narrativeagenda. At that point in his career, Rasmussen was involved in his longestexpedition with the hopes of doing extensive historical and cultural researchamong First Canadians.
Long beforeRasmussen and his team arrive we are introduced to Aava(Pakak Innukshuk), a shamanand his daughter Apak (Leah Angutimarik).It is a relationship fraught with tension; not unlike father-daughter tales inother cultures and climates. She has never fully recovered from the tragicdeath of her first husband and retains spiritual contact with him much to thechagrin of a new spouse.
Aava dilemma is more difficult to pinpoint. Heappears to be in the throes of a crisis of faith: it may simply be a matter ofage and experience and it may also be accelerated by his daughter's situation.One is also led to believe that the tom-tom network has communicated thearrival of Europeans in distant villages; their ships, weapons and the religionthey call Christianity.
There are echoesof the earlier film in The Journals Of Knud Rasmussen that comewith the territory literally and in the natural, largely unschooledperformances of the native cast. Cohn - who did not take a directing credit onthe earlier film - again serves as cinematographer and employs digital camerasand a deft balance of poetry and cinema verite. Theenvironment is like painting on a white canvas with the denizens addingstriking color and the wind an essential part of the soundtrack.
The earlier filmby its very nature was allegoric and the decision not to specify its eraunderlined its universality. This time there's more rumination than momentumwith long sections in which tribal elders appear to wrestle with both theobscure and significant incursions on their daily life. There's alsoconsiderable time devoted to Inuit songs and chants that were a significant aspectof Rasmussen's later work, and the film-makers even venture into National FilmBoard of Canada terrain with a section devoted to how to build an igloo.
When it appearsthat the yarn's disparate strands are unrelated and unfocused, the film-makersexact an extraordinary sleight of hand and Aavabegins to preach a form of Christianity that incorporates tenets of nativebeliefs and faith. It occurs so quickly and organically it cannot help butleave one breathless. What translated as random and sometime anecdotal crystallises into major tragedy and one's earlyreservations are largely reduced to petty carping.
Igloolik Isuma Productions
Igloolik Isuma (Montreal)
Elise Lund Larsen
Neeve Irngaut Uttak