by Luke Gorham Film

Maliglitut | Zacharius Kunuk

September 26, 2016

With Maliglitut, which literally translates to “the followers,” director Zacharius Kunuk embarks on an approximate remake of John Ford’s The Searchers, relocating the action to the Arctic tundra of northern Canada. On paper, this is an inspired choice, riffing on the mythopoeia of the Old West through tradition-heavy Inuit culture, and capitalizing on the stark vistas this geographic locale affords. Kunuk captures his action with striking imagery of a cinematically underrepresented culture in motion, alternating wide shots of pinpoint action across a white backdrop with intimate close-ups. He likewise compliments this transplanted story with a primal sound design, utilizing rhythmic chants and guttural bellows in place of a score, with long sequences of vast silence punctuated by crunching snow and dog yips.

Unfortunately, while the nuts and bolts prove satisfying enough, the final product remains flimsy, abandoning any complexity of character in service of narrative similitude, a particular mistake given John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards character as the touchstone. This could have been forgiven had Kunuk placed greater emphasis on exploring his native people, where he shined with the imperfect but striking Atanarjuat. But after a dazzling opening sequence, any attention to culture or custom is set aside, instead opting for unambiguous villainy and the pace-killing monotony of the ‘chase.’ Spare to a fault, Maliglitut feels like a half-conceived work, dazzling in theory but deeply-flawed and underwhelming in execution.

Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 2.