The Fast Runner
review by Carrie Gorringe, 21 June 2002

28th Seattle International Film Festival

Adapted from Inuit legend by the late Paul Apak Angilirq, The Fast Runner details the rivalry between the eponymous hero and the sinister Oki, one so strong that it threatens to leave their tribes in a vulnerable position against the need to survive in a landscape often perceived by outsiders as both harsh and beautiful. Oki and Atanrjuat are already rivals, Oki being contemptuous of the latter's lack of skills' despite the fact that Atanrjuat has a gift of incalculable value: the ability to run faster than anyone else in the tribe. The first clash, however, begins when Atanrjuat wins the right to marry Oki's intended. From there, the film progresses through the realms of adultery, murder and ambition, climaxing in the inevitable showdown between the two men; at one critical point in the film, the utility of Atanrjuat's skills are conveyed in a series of chase sequences crafted with a subtle yet powerful precision that wrings out every available drop of tension. Director Zacharias Kunuk carefully captures this atmosphere in pastel and golden hues, revealing the beauty under the rawness of the tundra.

If Runner brings to mind Robert Flaherty's 1921 documentary, Nanook of the North, any thoughts of such a comparison should be immediately dismissed. Flaherty's depiction of Inuit life, however revolutionary the attempt to capture it on film at that time, reeks of a patronizing and racist mindset concerning "noble" (read: "simple") savages (an attitude which was, of course, not exclusive to Flaherty at this time). By contrast, Kunuk and Angilirq's Inuits are far from simple: as noted earlier, all of them possess fully-rounded personalities, capable of committing irrational actions to satisfy themselves despite the risks to the other members of the tribe. The filmmakers have mounted a skillfully-crafted psychological trajectory for Atanrjuat as he emerges from innocent simplicity through cruelty on the way to mourning, maturity and redemption in a way that always engages the audience, even at a running time of 168 minutes (further credit goes also to Natar Ungalaaq's remarkable performance in the title role). Expect it to be a contender for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award.

Seattle International Film Festival Coverage:




Directed by:
Zacharias Kunuk

Natar Ungalaaq
Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq
Sylvia Ivalu

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not yet
been rated.





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