Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
The sheer sense-consuming wallop of 2001’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner likely will leave its viewers in a daze. So crisp with detail, it briskly whisks us to a locale like nothing we’ve seen to tell an Inuit-culture story unlike anything else we’ve heard.
Atanarjuat is a great provider in a small Inuit village — enough to instill deep jealousy in Oki, son of the village chief. After Atanarjuat wins a bare-fisted fighting match against Oki, he takes Atuat (Oki’s betrothed) as a wife. But cultural traditions expected of Atanarjuat set off a chain of betrayal, misplaced trust and murder.
Shot on digital video, director Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat sometimes feels like a documentary, other times like a well-crafted suspense thriller, family drama and morality play with a dash of the supernatural. Its most memorable sequence is a surprise attack from which Atanarjuat is able to escape — naked and sprinting for his life across barren tundra.
Natar Ungalaaq, as Atanarjuat, is the only actor with previous professional credits. But Atanarjuat isn’t about precision performances. It’s about using its mystical mood and tone to explore its themes.
This enchanting and enthralling folktale examines how trappings of tradition — adherence to and detraction from — can dilute and, in some instances, ruin a culture. Propelled by primal dramatic force, Atanarjuat ably shifts from unique to universal — family and community are not concepts bound by ethnicity, nor are emotions of sorrow, rage and hope.