THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, with Leah Angutimarik and Pakak Innukshuk. An Alliance Atlantis release. 112 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (September 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 108. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good idea to open the Toronto International Film Festival with this sober, serious-minded Inuit epic. Politically correct? Yes. Visually compelling? Yes. But gripping? Not really. This film takes work and patience - not the best requirements when you're trying to sell a flashy opening gala.
There are rewards for that patience, however. A month after seeing it, I can still vividly recall several scenes, and like a lot of complex art a novel by Faulkner, say it's a film I'm eager to look at it again. It lacks the momentum of co-director Zacharias Kunuk's Camera d'Or-winning Inuit epic Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). But there's no denying its hypnotic pull.
It's inspired by the actual journals of Danish scientist Rasmussen (Jens J¿rn Spottag), who in 1922 Igloolik meets the noble Inuit shaman Avva (Pakak Innukshuk) and his family, including his wife, Orulu (Neeve Uttak), and most importantly his daughter Apak (Leah Angutimarik), who has some of her father's powers.
The writer/directors unspool their tale subtly and slowly, letting it emerge from various storytellers rather than in a linear fashion. The result is initially disorienting but means the characters accumulate texture.
At the film's end (note: it has nowhere near the epic running time of Atanarjuat), you'll want to watch the early scenes again. It's a shame that Rasmussen and his Danish colleagues don't come into better focus.
There's a lack of tension, but think of the movie as a sequence of interconnected igloo stories and you won't be disappointed.
Exquisite scenes abound, especially one where Orulu recounts her childhood and suddenly weeps for joy at the realization that she's had a happy life. The performances are low-key but subtle; look for Atanarjuat's mischievous-faced Natar Ungalaaq in a small but key role. And the film's finale, recounting the inevitable encroachment of Christianity, toys with naturalism in brave though not always successful ways.
The film's a moving, drawn-out lament for the end of a tradition.