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flick pick | The Fast Runner [Atarnarjuat] 2001
Directed by: Zacharias Kunuk
Written by: Paul Apak Angilirq, Norman Cohn, Zacharias Kunuk, Herve Paniaq, Pauloosie Qulitalik
Starring: Matar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tlugarjuk, Pakak Innushuk
Language: Inuktitut [with English subtitles]
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, serious
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Set in the icy arctic at an unspecified time in the distant past, The Fast Runner tells the epic story of an ancient Inuit legend that begins when an evil spirit invades a small, quiet village, and tears the once close-knit community apart. A generation later and the rift has yet to heal: the children of those present on the night the spirit cursed the community continue to bicker and clash. At the center of all the tension is the rivalry between brothers Atanarjuat ("the fast runner") and Amaqjuaq ("the strong one"), and Oki, the mean, bitter son of the community's leader. The situation comes to a head when Atanarjuat wins the affections of Atuat, the sweet young woman who's long been promised to Oki. Oki and Atanarjuat settle the matter in the traditional way, in a ritualized fight that takes place in front of the whole community. Atanarjuat unexpectedly wins, and a very angry Oki has no choice but to let Atuat go. The relationship between the two clans only grows more complicated when some time later, Oki offers Atanarjuat his sister Puja as a traveling companion on a long hunting journey. Sly, manipulative, trouble-making Puja has long had her heart set on Atanarjuat, and eagerly ingratiates her way into Atanarjuat's family as a second wife - much to the expectant Atuat's disapproval. But when Puja commits an unforgivable act of betrayal to her new family, she's cast out and sent back to Oki and her old family in disgrace. This sets off a chain of events that leads to a brutal death, an exhilarating escape, a temporary exile… and eventually, the reunification and redemption of the community.

Review "Amazing" is one of those adjectives I'll admit I have a tendency to overuse. Like "fantastic", or "fabulous", it's a word that flies off my tongue so readily that it somewhat negates the whole point of using so strong an adjective. So when I say The Fast Runner is amazing, I want you to understand that in this case, at least, I don't just mean it's good, or even great - I mean it's one of those movies that left me feeling like my eyes had been opened wide. To begin with, there's the astonishing stark beauty of the arctic landscape: all that white stretching on and on and on, dazzlingly bright, so barren and strange it's like another planet. Then there's the ethnographic element: you can't watch this movie without marveling at the way in which these people live. From the very first (and very disorienting) opening scene, The Fast Runner throws you into this ancient Inuit way of life: you can practically smell the blood when they're getting ready to dig in to a fat slab of raw seal meat (vegetarians beware), and feel the warmth and coziness of a well-built igloo. But The Fast Runner doesn't exoticize the people or the culture. We see how they nosh, how they hunt, how they dress, and where they sleep, but by the end of the movie, we're so immersed in this world that none of it seems particularly bizarre at all. Atanarjuat, Atuat and co. are bawdy, funny, earthy, flawed: just plain human. And what we discover then is that The Fast Runner gets at things that are so much more universal and elemental than the specifics of how a people look or live. Love, lust, jealousy, rivalry, betrayal, revenge, murder: this is the stuff that of which great epics have always been made. The Fast Runner tells a story that's familiar no matter what culture you happen to have grown up in - but in a way that you've never seen before. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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