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Reviews: Film

The Fast Runner,
PC’s Latest Atrocity
Dan Schneider

The other day I watched the DVD of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner I had picked up used at Blockbuster for less than $7. I wasted my money. I bought in to the hype surrounding this very bad 2001 film. Virtually every review on &, the 2 largest film review sites on the web, is fall-down, asskissingly praise-filled for this film. Seeing the trailer, it seemed promising, & I had put the film on my list of must gets when it came out on DVD.

But, the film is so bad on so many scores I can only surmise that a PC need to be kind to the culture of Eskimos is behind the lavishment of praise. This Canadian film won all its country’s honors? Let’s not forget that Canada does not call its aboriginal peoples American (Canadian) Indians or Native Americans (Canadians), rather the PC numbingly (& ultimately meaningless) First Nations; although the increasing evidence that these ‘First Nations’ actually conquered & slaughtered the actual First Americans (represented by Kennewick Man & similar archaeological findings) will doubtlessly lead to an even more meaningless appellation in a decade or two. Accordingly, the Eskimo culture has been re-termed Inuit, after one of several languages spoken in the Canadian Arctic- a bit of Inuit cultural imperialism, eh?

I don’t play those games- I’ll call an Eskimo an Eskimo- a term derived from yet another Native lingo. Do I call myself a gringo because Mexicans do? Do I say I live in the EU (Estados Unidos) because a Spaniard would associate that acronym with the USA, rather than the European Union? Did we call the USSR the CCCP? Of course not - to hell with semantics! My dashing of PC Elitism, however, is much in accord with director Zacharias Kunuk’s dashing of competent filmmaking. Gushing reviews praise the film’s look. Sorry, but the ‘film’ is actually shot in widescreen digital video, which makes the Arctic glare all the harsher. Film would have softened the tones and given the frozen wastes an Antonionian desolation. Still, the camerawork is so amateurish I was agog. Even a layman like me understands visual composition - ZK does not!

Instead of a cinema verité feel (watch the DVD of Narc for a brilliant example of how that’s done right) One feels that a bunch of teenagers in Cancun could have done a better job in recording their sex romps amd quarrels. The handheld visuals of the Arctic are also rather dull. I recently bought a 10-DVD cheapie box of films for $8. In it was an odd little early 1970's British film called Cry Of The Penguins, with John Hurt and Hayley Mills. It was shot in the Antarctic and its visuals are infinitely better. Atanarjuat is 2 hours, 40+ minutes long for a tale that, done by someone with a grasp of narrative, could have been told in a 25 minute short- it’s that ungodly bloated. The writing is atrocious - supposedly based on an eons-old myth; this is PC shorthand to inform the gullible that this is a deep and treasured tale to these people. If you diss it you’re obviously a racist imperialist fool. Sorry, purveyors of pap, I’m not kowed.

The tale is a simpleminded morality play: the characters are dumb, superstitious barbarians, and had this film’s director had a non-Inuit name attached to it the film would have been relentlessly attacked for its racist portrayal, not to mention flayed by Feminists for its degrading portrait of the female Eskimos. Let’s see: polygamy is OK, yet adulterers deserve the death penalty, while the woman they fuck around with deserve banishment from the village by their family, and women are meant to merely cook, sew, take care of the babies, obey their husbands, etc.- you get the point. But, wait, since this ‘represents’ a ‘unique’ aboriginal culture any forward thinking individual has no right to judge it for what it is- or was: a barbaric, lawless, misogynistic, testosterone-driven culture of neoliths. Holy shit, am I channeling Gloria Steinem? Relax, read on- I bash all around.

So, you say C’mon, it’s an indie film made by Eskimos to celebrate their own. They had hardships. Well, even that does not wash- the film’s budget was about $2 million! I’ve never made a film, but give me $2 million and I guarantee you I can top this film in every way, artistically- starting with the atrocious script, and wooden actors.

Sorry, don’t give me this ‘limited pool’ of Eskimo actors to choose from BS, nor the non-need to shoot the film in Inuktitut, the Inuit language. Go to many of the reservations around North America, get the best Indian actors, give’em parkas, talk in English and I guarantee no one will notice the difference. How many multiplexes are there in Yellowknife, anyway?

As for the story. This from the film’s official website Igloolik, "place of houses," in the eastern arctic wilderness at the dawn of the first millenium. Evil in the form of a mysterious, unknown shaman enters a small community of nomadic Inuit and upsets its balance and spirit of cooperation. The stranger leaves behind a lingering curse of bitterness and discord: after the camp leader Kumaglak is murdered, the new leader Sauri drives his old rival Tulimaq down through mistreatment and ridicule.
Years pass. Power begins to change when the resentful Tulimaq has two sons - Amaqjuaq, the Strong One, and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. As the camp's best hunters they provoke jealousy and rage in their rival, Oki, the leader's ill-tempered son.
When Atanarjuat wins away Oki's promised wife-to-be, the beautiful Atuat, in a head punching competition, Oki vows to get even.
Egged on by his intimidating father, Oki and his friends plot to murder both brothers while they sleep. Amaqjuaq is speared through their tent and killed, but Atanarjuat miraculously escapes, running naked for his life across the spring sea ice.
Eluding his pursuers with supernatural help, Atanarjuat is hidden and nursed back to health by an old couple who themselves fled the evil camp years before.
After an inner struggle to reclaim his spiritual path, and with the guidance of his elder advisor, Atanarjuat learns to face both natural and supernatural enemies, and heads home to rescue his family.
Will he continue the bloody cycle of revenge, or restore harmony to the community?

Here’s a real summary of Paul Apak Angilirq’s script. The first 90 minutes, detailing the Shaman’s arrival, the two brothers’ growing up, rivalry with each other and Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq) and his pals, could all have used a Lord Of The Rings-type 3 or 4 minute condensation to start. Especially superfluous (and odious) is a scene where Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) stiffs Oki’s snow slut of a sister- Puja (Lucy Tulugarjuk)- which seemingly means they are married, according to Eskimo law. This is ruly pointless soft-core Eski-porno. The film should start at the murder of Amaqjuaq (Pakkak Innukshuk), right after he screws Puja & seeks Atanarjuat’s forgiveness, and where Atanarjuat escapes Oki and two of his murderous homeys, dashes naked across the ice fields, only to be saved by Oki’s long lost grand-uncle’s family. In truth, even an Eskimo would be dead of hypothermia in less than an hour of Arctic nudity- but this is art and one of the film’s lesser sins. Oki has always had it in for Atanarjuat but mistakenly kills Amaqjuaq, after Puja tells him Atanarjuat tried to kill her after the adultery. Perhaps the only chuckle in the film comes from where Atanarjuat is hidden in the seaweed bed-cum-outhouse of Oki’s grand-uncle, only to be pissed upon by the searching Oki. His feet bloodied from his escape, he survives, has ‘visions’- i.e.- loses his mind and returns for a final showdown with Oki- who, in the meanwhile, had engaged in a gang rape (mercifully offscreen) of Atanarjuat’s first wife Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu)- his ex-fiancee.

No, there is no Shootout at the Oki Corral, nor anything of any involving drama. In another gratuitous scene designed to highlight Eski T&A, Atanarjuat returns to camp, strips Atuat in public and gives her a bitchin’ new parka. He then plots to take out Oki, who has seemingly lost his mind after murdering his own dad to ascend to tribal chiefdom and then killing a weird rabbit- a bizarrely failed attempt at symbolism. Atanarjuat gets his vengeance, but spares Oki and his boys. The trio, plus the Skankskimo Puja, are then banished for their murderous and adulterous ways. This only after the wacky old Shaman is summoned & defeated.

Boy, ain’t it great to know Eskimo culture is so uplifting & worthy of preservation? Furthermore, no one including ZK, seems to know when this tale is set. Some critics claim 100s or 1000s of years ago, but clearly it takes place after Euro ‘contamination’, since the Eskimos have steel blades & no pre-Euro knowledge of metallurgy. But this is ‘myth’ so even I can overlook this and many other historical flaws. The dull tale, poor acting, amateur visuals, however, I cannot. ZK is not an amateur filmmaker- having spent a quarter century in documentary filmmaking. This film is nowhere in a class with that other noted doc maker-turned-auteur Herk Harvey, and his brilliant 1962 Carnival Of Souls. The character development is so poor I had to rewatch certain scenes to be sure of the character’s relationships- for example, on a first watch it’s nearly impossible to discern that Atanarjuat & Puja are married after their soft core romp. Similarly, Puja’s hand in the murder of Amaqjuaq is only discernible upon rewatch.

Still, the characters are utterly clueless of any depth to life beyond sex and superstition, the director has no sense of narrative nor editing skills, nor any ability to transcend stereotypes (just compare this dreck to the delightful Native American comedy of a few years back- Smoke Signals- with a strong script & well-developed characters by Sherman Alexie.) The visuals are poorly constructed and dull,and the score is predictably laced with mind-numbingly obvious chantsand gutturals.

While not the worst film I’ve ever seen, given its indie-artsy buildup (generally more credible than flat-out Hollywood Oscar buzz), I have to term Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner the most disappointing film in a very long time. About the only positive thing about Eskimo culture that can be discerned from this film is that they will not have to be subjected to it- at least not for a few more centuries.
© Dan Schneider, Jan 2004
The Best in Poetica seeks great poems & essays!

Feedback to this review from Rob Desjardins" Feb 14th 2005

Is Dan 12 years old and does he have a membership to the KKK? I just watched the film. Sorry Dan wasted less than $7 on the film, even used. He apparently has no concept of time. He would probably use PC (how many times does he use this 'word' in his review?) ethics on the cavemen and burn a film about them (Quest for Fire might go for less than $7). If he wants to rant about all things PC, and use that to judge films by, then he should burn about 90 percent of all films ever made. Ironically, he says he doesn't want to bow before a PC god, and yet he mentions First Nations killing the First Americans, chats about the role of women in this movie (again, regardless of a concept of time), "Accordingly, the Eskimo culture has been re-termed Inuit, after one of several languages spoken in the Canadian Arctic - a bit of Inuit cultural imperialism, eh?", No there was no steel in this movie, so no it wasn't before Europe conquered. Knives are made from bone. Those wacky sunglasses are driftwood. "I can overlook this and many other historical flaws"---does he know history? Have any concept?
Other things I loved from his pen:
"highlight Eski T&A"
"I was agog"
"One feels that a bunch of teenagers in Cancun could have done a better job in recording their sex romps amd quarrels"---genius! that's exactly what the film was about, and nothing more!
"the characters are dumb, superstitious barbarians" . . . . if so, and if we are them, (some of us are human) why do four leaf clovers, rabbits feet, and astrological columns appear even today?
ah, evolution (again, there's that concept of time coming back, past vs present----same-same or totally different? does it matter?)
"If you diss it you're obviously a racist imperialist fool"---zeig heil! "give me $2 million and I guarantee you I can top this film in every way, artistically- starting with the atrocious script, and wooden actors."---please someone give him 2 million----PLEASE!!!!!!! Pauley Shore needs a career again and Dan would be perfect!ah well, it would be so easy to go on, but . . . . . I'm almost off work and if the boss catches me doing something as pointless and which wastes time as much as commenting on bad reviewer's reviews . . . . . . at least I'm doing this than playing mine sweeper.
Are reviews Dan's job? You mean his boss WANTED him to write that? And he didn't get in shit?

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