Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner

Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

With scenery like this, how can you fail? Very easily, in fact. Filmmakers have been to the Arctic before, shooting action pictures. The tundra and vast expanse of snowy waste is used for decorative backdrops, like the mountains of Afghanistan.

Here, the location is essential to this ancient Inuit legend. The old life depends upon weather, community and the skill of the hunter. Atanarjuat's story feels as modern as Shakespeare's universal dramas. It is about sex, murder and revenge. That it takes place in the coldest outcrop of human habitation, the settlement of Igloolik near the Arctic Circle, adds to its strange beauty.

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Being the first full-length movie (the three hours go by in a flash) in the language of and made by Inuit enormous trouble has been taken to get it right. People don't live like this any more and yet when you watch the film, it feels like it could be happening now. The actors look entirely natural in their caribou-skin parkas and moccasin boots, eating fresh meat from the bone, tending seal oil lamps, whipping up the dogs on the sleds and sitting together in igloos at night singing rude songs, or playing games.

Even with a movie as good as Dancing With Wolves, it would be hard to imagine the Native American cast spending their evenings in tepees, telling stories and working on buffalo hide. Everything about The Fast Runner has an authenticity that does not depend on set design. It could be a documentary, if it wasn't for the story of a naked man running for his life across a frozen sea.

Zacharias Kunuk's achievement with his mainly untrained actors is astonishing. Even the sexual chemistry works. They wear their coats with the fur inside and nothing else, it seems. When a man says to a girl, "I wolf you," it means he slips his cold hands under the fur over her warm body.

They don't kiss so much. They wolf more. Giggling.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2002
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First movie ever made in Inuit, it tells a tale of love, tradition and revenge.
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Read more Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner reviews:

Amber Wilkinson ***1/2

Director: Zacharias Kunuk

Writer: Paul Apak Angilirq

Starring: Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Madeline Ivalu, Pakkak Innuksuk

Year: 2000

Runtime: 172 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada

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