Saturday, October 22, 2016

imagineNATIVE '16 Film Review - Maliglutit (Searchers)

Influenced by John Ford's 1956 iconic film The Searchers director Zacharias Kunuk puts his spin on the American Western with the vast Nunavut territory replacing the Great Plains and sleds dogs supplanting horses as the chief means of transportation. Set in 1913 a group of troublemaking men are exiled from a small community due to the inappropriate actions. The men leave headed into the cold northern night hurling insults at their rivals.

Husband Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) is out hunting with his son for Caribou. They are successful in their pursuit leading to a night spent out on the tundra before a return home the next day. Back at their  northern dwelling. His wife, daughter, young son and parents spend a joyful evening eating telling stories while enjoying each other company. Into their home charge the exiles whom perform several acts of violence on the inhabitants taking the wife and daughter as hostages. Kuanana returns to aftermath of the attack on his family. He's told to use the loon Kallilik to guide in his search for his family members. Chanting Kallilik three times asking for help he heads out across the endless tundra with his son after the raiders.

Kunkuk's film is not a direct remake of the Ford film. The later features settlers pursuing Indians while here fellow Inuit commit the atrocities. The harsh environment and limitation of the dogs and sleds creates a slower pace to the escape then adding in the enormous flat landscape increases the difficulty for the exiles to disappear.  The director's lens is especially effective shooting the action scenes on the sleds. The piece employees several low angle camera shots along with tight framing on the kidnapped women giving the appearance that the sleds are floating above the crunchy snow below.

Cinematographer Jonathan Frantz uses colour, lighting shadows and firelight to bring to life the elements of the northland making the territory a major character in the story. Frantz eye is especially effective with the overhead fixed camera shots of the sleds far away in the distance. He also uses natural sunlight effectively several times particularly when it's settled low on the horizon. Costume designers Atuat Akkitirq and Susan Avingag work with furs and skins give the film an authentic feel. Their creations drive one passage where the family patriarch methodically undresses removing each layer as he readies for bed. Their clothing choices are also important to distinguish the garments of the two rival family members and associates.

The ensemble cast present themselves well in the production with the afore mentioned Benjamin Kunuk along with Joey Sarpinak as the main raider Kupak and Karen Ivalu as his wife Aulla leading the cast. Kunuk relentlessly pursues his family members building suspense and tension. Sarpinak and Ivalu have the most memorable scenes together one clearly stands out when the women attempt an ill-fated escape then Kupak tries to bring his new wife back to camp with her acting as dead weight fighting him at every turn.

Maliglutit (Searchers) is a story presented plainly without extra or unneeded plot points or sequences. Director Kunuk's storyline could translate to any setting or circumstance. The piece's cinematography is outstanding, editing crisp featuring a strong acting cast making it a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Maliglutit | Zacharias Kunuk / Natar Ungalaaq | Canada | 2016 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Nunavut, exile, kidnapping, Hunting, dogsled, Caribou, Kallulik, Revenge, Avenge.

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