Home > Cinema > Cinema: Atanarjuat, Ten Canoes

Cinema: Atanarjuat, Ten Canoes

I discovered these two movies a few months ago, but basically watched a few snippets and skipped most of them – so I decided to do them justice today.

Atanarjuat (2001)

Atanarjuat is a 2001 Canadian film, written and performed completely in Inuktitut. The plot derives from an ancient Inuit legend, set in the first millenium AD, and cautions against setting personal desires against the needs of a community – a matter of life-and-death for a people truly living on the edge of the world. I did mess up the experience somewhat by reading the plot on wikipedia before I watched the movie – and it is rather long at almost 3 hours (and the plot is stretched rather thin). But that was more than made up by stunning Arctic landscapes, and a wonderful, vivid recreation of a long-lost, Stone age culture….as a reviewer on IMDb put it far better than I can:

Atanarjuat (2001)

“Storing oil in a bird’s gut, moving the whip with such gentleness to get the dogs down on the snow, the song that Atanarjuat sings when he’s rowing, the way they touch noses to greet each other, the silent wisdom of ‘little daughter’,’little husband’, the metaphoric ice chamber fight, “did he say the words ‘kill'”, ‘your bark is louder than your bite’….”

All in all, some room for editing to allow for a smoother narrative, but a treat to watch nonetheless.

Ten Canoes (2006)

Ten Canoes is a 2006 film set in Arnhem Land, Australia, before the indigenous population came in contact with Europeans. The narrator speaks in English, while all characters speak in the Yolgnu Matha dialect. The story has an interesting plot-within-a-plot structure – while on a hunt for goose-eggs, Minygululu, who knows that his younger brother Dayindi covets his youngest wife, tells Dayindi a story from a much older time. Ridjimiraril is a great warrior with 3 wives – and knows that his younger brother, Yeeralparil, covets the youngest. A stranger appears, arousing suspicion when he offers to trade magical items. He leaves after a while, and Ridjimiraril’s second wife goes missing soon after. Ridjimiraril suspects the stranger of kidnapping her, and in his jealousy, he ends up killing the stranger, a member of the neighbouring tribe. As per tribal custom, the offender (and a chosen companion) must face members of the victim’s tribe, who throw spears at the two men, stopping only when they have speared one. Ridjimiraril chooses Yeeralparil, and after dodging many spears, is mortally wounded. After he dies, the kidnapped wife returns and reveals that she was taken by another tribe, much farther away. So now Yeeralparil, who only wanted the youngest wife, is saddled with all three – a nice way of saying “be careful what you wish for”.

All scenes from the goose-hunt are in black-and-white, while scenes from the distant past are in colour. The narration is excellent – David Gupilil is eloquent and witty – and the film as a whole is engrossing, a well re-constructed world of another culture lost to time. A gem of a movie, must-watch!

Ten Canoes (2006)

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