Tuesday, 13 September 2016

MALIGLUTIT/SEARCHERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Inuk John Ford Obsessions

MALIGLUTIT: a figure on the landscape of the universe.

Maliglutit/Searchers (2016)
Dir. Zacharias Kunuk, Natar Ungalaaq
Scr. Norman Cohn, Kunuk
Starring: Benjamin Kunuk, Jocelyne Immaroitok,
Johan Qunaq, Karen Ivalu, Lucy Tulugarjuk

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Inspired by John Ford's The Searchers, Zacharias (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) Kunuk and co-director Natar Ungalaaq serve up one of the most compelling and exciting action-adventure pictures of the year. Set against the backdrop of the Canadian north, a father and son obsessively chase after a group of men who slaughter much of their family and kidnap their women.

That's it - on the surface.

Below the simple veneer, a tale of family, love and a culture rooted in a land of harsh beauty roils with uncompromising resonance. Kunuk captures the rich tradition of the Inuk people and his visual storytelling acumen reaches a dazzling pinnacle. He paints a portrait of good guys and bad guys, but does so with the kind of deep strokes which reveal humanity on both ends of the spectrum.

Though Ford's great film is clearly about racism and was made to "right" the "wrongs" of previous westerns and their portrayal of indigenous culture, there is one major difference that stands out amongst others - the portrayal of the "kidnappers".

MALIGLUTIT: The humanity of good and evil.

In the Ford, the "villain" (or rather, the traditional "antagonist") is the Commanche Chief Scar. What we're allowed to know about him is what's told to us about him. When we finally see him, Ford reveals one of the most indelible, still chilling, still uber-creepy images of sheer evil.

Scar is less a character than an image, a symbol. Kunuk and co-writer Cohn takes this several steps further. Their antagonists are characters. We get to know them, just as we get to know the protagonists.

The bottom line though, is that both films share a narrative coat hanger and are ultimately two very different films. What's very similar between them is Kunuk and Ford's love of the land as a backdrop to the human drama - that the universe is always watching. The other similarity is how both filmmakers adhere to classical styles of filmmaking. The images in Kunuk's work go head to head with Ford's - one is the Canadian Arctic, the other is Monument Valley - both are beautiful, and so very, very dangerous.

MALIGLUTIT: Monument Valley vs the Canadian Arctic.

Both filmmakers also employ a classical approach to the action scenes, but Kunuk might actually win those sweepstakes with a breathtaking extreme wide shot in which we watch our hero and villain duke it out in a gorgeously choreographed fight as mere figures on the landscape. We've come to know both as human beings and as such, the stakes are so very high as we sit back as spectators, high up in the stands, the ice, snow and mountain ranges, the arena.

Of course in Ford's film, nobody ever forgets the iconic shot from within the cabin at the end of the film. Kunuk beautifully riffs on this with a similar shot from within an igloo. They're both iconic, but what they represent are so very similar, in terms of loss, but so very contradistinctive in terms of hope. They're both great on their own, but Jesus, what a double bill they make.


Maliglutit/Searchers is in the TIFF 2016 Platform series.