The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat) (review)

Why are most fantasy movies set in a pseudo-medieval world of dragons and knights and Euro-pagan magic? Because that’s the ethnic demographic of your average Hollywood filmmaker — even in fantasy, we turn to what we know. But as the pool of filmmakers grows — and digital equipment brings down the cost of producing a beautiful-looking film — other voices are clamoring to be heard. Like those of Zacharias Kunuk and Paul Apak Angilirq, the Inuit director and screenwriter of this extraordinary immersion into a mythology to which most of us have never been exposed. The story — based on ancient legend about an evil shaman spirit that divides a community that must remain close-knit for its very survival — just barely skims into the truly fantastical, but the filmmakers’ singular re-creation of the ordinary lives of the people of the Canadian Arctic a millennium ago is breaktakingly otherworldly in itself, set amongst endless icy vistas and bathed in bluish alien light. But the tale of brothers Amaqjuaq (Pakkak Innushuk) and Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq), the latter’s taboo-busting “theft” of the woman intended for another man, and the vengeance that engenders speaks to the general human experience of family and community in a plain, simple way, a bittersweet reminder to movie lovers of the enormous variety of the human adventure that film usually ignores.

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