THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN GALA D: Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn w/ Pakak Innukshuk, Leah Angutimarik. Canada/Denmark. 112 min. Thursday, September 7, 6:30 PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN); Thursday, September 7, 8 PM ROY THOMSON HALL; Friday, September 8, 9:30 AM RYERSON Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
This is a curious gala opener for the festival. It's as ethnically diverse and soberly artistic as last year's opener, Water. But it's less powerful than Deepa Mehta's film and less absorbing than director Kunuk's previous movie, the Camera d'Or-winning Inuit epic Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). Still, 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 Inuit shaman Avva (Innukshuk) and his family, including his wife, Orulu (Neeve Irngaut Uttak), and most importantly, his daughter Apak (Angutimarik), who has some of Avva's powers.
The writer/directors unspool their tale subtly and slowly, letting it emerge from various storytellers rather than in a linear fashion. This is initially disorienting but means that the characters accumulate texture. Once it's over (it's not nearly as long as Atanarjuat), you'll want to watch the early scenes again. Too bad 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 in which Orulu recounts her childhood and suddenly weeps for joy at the realization that she's had a happy life. The performances are chillingly good; look for Atanarjuat's mischievous-faced Natar Ungalaaq in a small but key role.
The film's a moving, drawn-out lament for the end of a tradition.