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The Fast Runner / Atanarjuat (R)
Lot 47
Official Site
Director: Zacharias Kunuk
Producers: Sally Bochner, Zacharais Kunuk, Norman Cohn
Written by: Paul Apak Angilirq
Cast: Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Aranatsiaq
Rating: out of 5

To paraphrase an old sexual totem, itís not the length that counts, itís the content. Additionally, if something is too long, it begins to cause pain and discomfort, not enjoyment, no matter how good the content is (or so Iím told). This saucy rule can be applied to the world of film in general and to the movie The Fast Runner specifically.

The Fast Runner is the new film from director Zacharias Kunuk, the hottest new filmmaker on the Inuit scene. Okay, truthfully, he is the Inuit film scene, but never mind that. His star is rising fast, having already earned various and sundry awards, including the prestigious Camera DíOr at the Cannes Film Festival. Iím not saying heís undeserving of these honors, per se. I think he could be a great filmmaker at some point. However, The Fast Runner, his first film, is a perfect example of a good idea and strong vision completely hamstrung by an overindulgence of ďartisticĒ pacing and the complete lack of an editor.

In The Fast Runner, we are introduced to a clan of nomadic Inuit, whom we uncultured types know as Eskimos, who are basically just trying to survive in the near arctic conditions of Northern Canada at the dawn of the century. They go about their business, killing antelope and seals for food, trying to keep warm and what have you, making the first hour or so of the film seem like a National Geographic special on seconal. When Kunuk finally gets to the plot, which is based on an Inuit legend, it actually turns out to be an interesting one. A shaman, seen briefly at the beginning of the movie, has placed a curse on the tribe, bringing them nothing but heartache and death for 20 years. The hero of our story, Atanarjuat, finds the burden of freeing his tribe from this evil placed on his shoulders, though we suspect heíd be happier going about his business of collecting seal meat. He has a confrontation with the main villain of the story, Oki, that leaves his brother dead and forces him to run away to another tribe. Oki, by the way, proves that even at the dawn of time and in ancient cultures, there were still people around who acted like total assholes. Atanarjuat finds his strength and then must decide to return to his village and stop the badness, once and for all. Naturally, thereís more to it than that, involving infidelity and bitter long-standing feuds, but I donít want to be here all night. At any rate, the plot is pretty good, and Kunuk really has a feel for setting and time period. The costumes and props, the language and actions, all feel as authentic as a museum display. Also worth mentioning is the stellar, crystal-sharp cinematography, which adds as much character to the film as the actors do. All of those things make it even harder to say that, as a whole, I disliked this movie.

The problem with The Fast Runner is that, for all it does right, it cannot sustain the interminable three-hour running time that itís saddled with. In my humble opinion, there is not a movie around that needs to be over two hours. Epics are just unnecessary, especially in the case of The Fast Runner, where thereís really only 1:45:00ís-worth of plot. Iím all for taking your time and letting the story happen naturally; rushing things can be just as bad. But look at films like Christopher Nolanís Insomnia or Guillermo Del Toroís The Devilís Backbone; both are well paced and take their time with their respective stories. However, both films clock in at around two hours without sacrificing anything vital to mood or plot. Hitting the three-hour mark should be an immediate sign to any director that he has overshot his goal by a generous margin. Had this been trimmed by an hour or so, I would have heartily recommended it to many of my friends and family. As it stands now, this is a movie that will only be appreciated by the most pretentious of film snobs, hell-bent on liking it because everyone whoís normal will find it boring.

As I said at the beginning, it all comes down to length and content. No matter how good your stuff is, it will bring much pain to people if it comes in a too-long package. A lesson all directors should heed, especially Zacharias Kunuk. Iím sure heíll make a great movie some day, but The Fast Runner isnít it.

óClinton Davis



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