Atanarjuat The Fast Runner

on June 07, 2002 by Chris Wiegand
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Attempting to find cinematic comparisons for the remarkable “Atanarjuat the Fast Runner” is--for the most part--futile. Documentary maker Zacharias Kunuk's first feature film has more in common with “Beowulf,” “The Odyssey” or Chinua Achebe's “Things Fall Apart” than anything ever before seen on the screen. The first ever Inuktikut-language feature, it is an extraordinary debut not just for a director but for an entire culture.

Like all classics, the tale is a universal one. It is based on an ancient Inuit legend, set in the north Baffin region of the Canadian Arctic, that has been passed on for generations. Conflict is created in the small community of Igloolik when Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) falls for Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu), who is already promised to Oki (Peter Henry Arnatsiaq). Jealous at the emotions existing between the two, Oki plans an attack on Atanarjuat. His brother is slain but Atanarjuat manages to escape across the ice, in an astonishing sequence in which he outruns a team of pursuers stark naked. He finally takes refuge with a kindly family of hermits before returning to the community to face Oki.

A feature film of epic proportions, “Atanarjuat the Fast Runner” succeeds in depicting the specific customs, costumes, traditions and beliefs of a particular Inuit community, while at the same time telling a timeless story of good versus evil. It is thus an exceptionally powerful drama with documentary-style detail. The cinematography is superb, the landscapes austere, the music incredibly moving, the performances (all of them) of the highest order. Kunuk directs with a sensuous eye, offering one of the greatest chase scenes in the movies one minute and one of the most erotic, realistic sex scenes the next. “Atanarjuat” will make you laugh, make you cry and keep you on the edge of your seat for nearly three hours. Isn't that what cinema was supposed to do all along? Starring Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk and Madeline Ivalu. Directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Written by Paul Apak Angilirq. Produced by Paul Apak Angilirq, Norman Cohn and Zacharias Kunuk. A Lot 47 release. Drama. Inuktikut-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 165 min

Tags: Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk and Madeline Ivalu. Directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Written by Paul Apak Angilirq. Produced by Paul Apak Angilirq, Norman Cohn and Zacharias Kunuk. A Lot 47 release. Drama
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