Atanarjuat The Fast Runner Reviews

"Winner of the Caméra d'Or last year at Cannes and a burgeoning international sensation, Zacharias Kunuk's first feature - as well as the first feature to be made in the Inuktitut language- is an epic account of an Inuit blood feud, shot on DV in northernmost Canada. Mysterious, bawdy, emotionally intense, and replete with virtuoso throat singing, this three-hour movie is engrossing from first image to last, so devoid of stereotype and cosmic in its vision it could suggest the rebirth of cinema. As the arctic light and landscape beggar description, so the performances go beyond acting, and the production itself seems little short of miraculous."

Jim Hoberman, Village Voice

"[Atanarjuat The Fast Runner] is a knockout ..a generational saga with many Homeric elements ­ love, jealousy, rivalry between young contenders, extraordinary feats of strength, resentments passed from fathers to sons, and crimes that beget consequences years later."

Margaret Atwood, The Globe and Mail

"Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) is an astonishing epic film made by and about the Inuit peoples of the Canadian arctic, telling a story of a crime that ruptures the trust within a closely knit group, and how justice is achieved and healing begins.…"

Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times

"J'ai suivi de très près l'extraordinaire aventure de ce premier film inuit qui a été primé à Cannes l'année dernière: Atanarjuat, la légende de l'homme rapide. La civilization inuit est une civilization passionante et ce film magnifique permet d'en entrevoir certains aspects."

Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic of France

"'The Fast Runner' is not merely an interesting document from a far-off place; it is a masterpiece. Mr. Kunuk's film, which won the Caméra d'Or for best first feature at last year's Cannes International Film Festival, is much more than an ethnographic curiosity. It is, by any standard, an extraordinary film, a work of narrative sweep and visual beauty that honors the history of the art form even as it extends its perspective."

AO Scott, New York Times

"Zacharias Kunuk's feature film, the first made in the Inuit language, translates into a universal art form the shared mythic world of the people of the Canadian High Arctic."

Hugh Brody, openDemomcracy

"Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner, the first Inuit-language pic and a Cannes winner last year, is a mystical arctic gem."

Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Destined to go down in Canadian film history as the surprise movie of 2001, and one of the best ever made in this country, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) is bold and emotionally generous. Full of surprises, it never limits itself by locking into one mode and never plays like one of those deadening films about Aboriginal people that stereotypes them as either nature gurus or booze-addled, gas-sniffing losers… [The film] connects with modern audiences, staging traditional Inuit life without getting pedantic or losing the riveting narrative rhythm."

Maurie Alioff, Take One Magazine

"Atanarjuat manages to capture a marvellous sense of a very complex community at work. It reveals Kunuk to be a masterful observer of human interaction, and a filmmaker worth watching"

Bill Evans, Cinemascope

"There are really only three things you need to know about Atanarjuat: (1) It is a superb film; (2) It is both intriguingly exotic and uniquely Canadian; (3) Although based on an ancient Inuit myth, and set on a frozen shore a thousand years ago, it speaks eloquent volumes about the way we live now."

Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail

"Par dessus tout, ce qui impressionne le plus à la vue de ces horizons vierges de tout, de cette masse inapprovisoisée d’un blanc aussi imperturbable que terrifiant, c’est la presence même d’un cinéma pur. Et sa réelle volonté de raconter. Un cinéma (et un spectateur!) qui retrouve son droit à l’innocence, sa capacité d’émerveillement, sa modestie face à l’immensité de cette nature austère qui ne cesse de faire corps avec la petitesse de l’homme et de son frère, la bête."

Denis Côté, Ici

"Fresh as the Arctic snow, Atanarjuat the Fast Runner is one of the most exciting new films to come along in years…an utterly original piece of cinema. While the film gives rich insights into a fascinating culture, it is of far more than anthropological interest. It is totally compelling, dramatic, accessible; it is as if you have known this story all your life. Atanarjuat seems to tap into a vein of narrative, a universal style of storytelling that deals with human fundamentals: love and hate, jealousy and pride, fear and exultation. The results feel refreshingly pure and simple, especially compared with the superficiality of much Hollywood product."

SF Said, London Daily Telegraph

"[At Cannes] the dazzler from nowhere was Atanarjuat the Fast Runner. The locations are unsparingly harsh and beautiful. The camera work is stunning. The performances, all by Inuits, have a simple power that strikes us straight between the eyes, as fast and true as an arrow…. Atanarjuat speaks to today and of today. It depicts and celebrates a past that has bequeathed unchanged gifts to the present…. At the same time, it holds up a defiant paradigm to unthinking or insensitive progress. Telling stories of bygone times expresses the love of what made us, shaped us and can still teach us."

Nigel Andrews, The Financial Times of London

"Arguably, the most impressive film of the [Edinburgh] film festival is the Inuit-language fable Atanarjuat the Fast Runner… [I]t is the outcome of an extraordinary collaboration between a number of people — tribal elders, a Canadian cinematographer, a sadly deceased scriptwriter — for which the director Zacharias Kunuk is the central focus…. Thanks to the limpid clarity of its storytelling, performances so natural as to blur the line with documentary, and a roving camera that is almost anthropological in its attention to details of landscape and habitat, Atanarjuat emerges as a genuine delight."

Andrew Pulver, The Manchester Guardian

"As the one of the first narrative features to emerge from the Canadian First Nations film tradition, Zacharias Kunuk's Fast Runner is nothing less than a complete revelation and reinvention of cinematic form. Stretched out over three hours, Kunuk slows his narrative pace to match the landscape and the aboriginal oral tradition. As a result, the story has a chance to sink in and stew -- creating tension beneath the surface of these frozen frames. The beauty of the movie goes well beyond the incredible landscape, however, as it tells the story of Atanarjuat -- a kid destined to take on the son of his father's rival. Set in an ageless time, before the white man sullied the North with European vice, the movie successfully translates myth to film without sacrificing anything in the process. A long voyage with a mighty big payoff, Atanarjuat is a definite 'must-see.'"

Katherine Monk, The Vancouver Sun

"Zacharias Kunuk’s three-hour Atanarjuat The Fast Runner is an epic of a different order, and a landmark in its own right. The winner of the Camera d’or and the first ever Inuit language fiction feature, Fast Runner is a spare dramatization of a popular myth involving adultery, rape, pillage, murder, and eventual reconciliation. It’s also a gorgeous landscape movie shot in digital video, which turns out to be a terrific medium for depicting the undifferentiated ice fields of the Great North."

Amy Taubin, The Village Voice

"Thousand year old tale of festering evil on the frozen tundra should find a warm welcome worldwide, particularly on the fest circuit…. [P]ic positively drips with an ineffable aura of genuineness. New York raised d.p., Norman Cohn, who has lived in Igloolik since 1985, positions the camera at dog and sled-runner level or arranges for it to glide across the snow during escape-and-chase scenes to excellent you-are-there effect. Thesps, many of them acting for the first time and dedicated to the idea of capturing their own history on film, inhabit their roles with oomph."

Lisa Nesselson, Variety

"The film’s surge of images creates another planet to unfamiliar eyes: yellow light bouncing off the inside of an igloo, dog teams leading hunters to frozen seals on tundra, women in facial tatoos under heavy animal skins that are somehow sexy, just a tug away from nakedness (despite the ice, Atanarjuat is one of the most erotic Canadian films ever)."

Katrina Onstad, The National Post

"[U]n film sans modèle, il s’agit en effet d’un mythe plus ancien que l’Iliade. Mais l’intelligence de Zacharias Kunuk, premier cinéaste de sa communauté, est justement de l’avoir filmé sans didactisme —on est loin de Nanouk, au plus près des corps et des gestes, d’une caméra légère et contemplative tour à tour, pour restituer les sensations d’un mode de vie perdu. En deça des panoramas sublimes, quand plus rien ne crisse ni siffle, c’est une intimité inconnue qui nous happe: autre moiteur et hautre haleine, autre cruditee douce. De ces trois heures de chasse et de tannage, de feux de lichen et de halètements, on sort avec l’idée revigorante qu’une histoire d’avant l’Histoire continue de vivre sa vie, et que le cinéma y est pour quelque chose…. Un film d'une singulière beauté."

Jean-Michel Frodon, Le Monde

"Un plaisir rare, celui de la totale nouveauté…. Une fois quelques repères établis dans cette immensité (à la fois celle qui entoure les personnages, toute blanche, et celle qui nous sépare d’eux), on est pris au piège du destin de ce clan, de ces événements qui son communes à toute l’humanité (une bagarre, un adultère) mais qui prennent une forme toute à fait neuve. Atanarjuat est le seul à temoigner d’un peu de foi dans la capacité de l’espèce humaine de vivre en collectivité. Cet espoir repos sur des codes, des rites, qui sont morts depuis si longtemps chez nous que leur découverte est comme celle d’un monde nouveau."

Thomas Sotinel, Le Monde

"Enthralling... Atanarjuat is an epic tale of love, jealousy, murder, and revenge worthy of Greek tragedy. Non-professional actors and authentic location open a documentary window on an exotic world — while conjuring surreal, operatic images of horror and beauty…. The movie's ritual world is astonishing."

Brian D. Johnson, Maclean's

"As the first feature film in the Inuktitut language, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) is already a milestone, an unclassifiable mixture of drama — murder, adultery and supernatural forces — and a fascinating cultural document."

Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail

"Atanarjuat se révèle saisissant. Défilent à l’écran durant près de trois heures d’images de toundra d’une grande beauté, sur son rythme lent, incantatoire. Le héro, Atanarjuat, pour échapper à ceux qui veulent sa mort, courra longtemps nu, sur la banquise, en une scène spectaculaire."

Odile Tremblay, Le Devoir


18 February 2019


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