Talking Story, Inuit-Style

Review of Angirattut (Coming Home) 

Angirattut is the new film by by Zacharias Kunuk, the director of the Cannes award-winning Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. In this film the timeframe is brought to the present—through the lens of a group of Inuit returning to the abandoned site of the camp they inhabited 50 years before. The film is remarkable in featuring neither English speech nor subtitles, but only the continuous, measured tones of Inuit speech in their language, Inuktitut. Nor does much action of any kind happen: mostly sitting around “talking story,” as Hawaiians would say. Each listening patiently to what the speaker has to say, in their turn. Their story, their tears, laughter and eyes seeing all.

Inuit village skiddo

This experience, engaging with it, requires and rewards with patience: the image of the young man tending a fragile fire at sunset, beside the stone slabs of the grave of an ancestor, looking out to sea. The old woman, her legs swollen with diabetes, carefully placing feet and cane, with the hand of another, on the ground of moss and stones as she walks to the boat that will take her away again.

A fellow moviegoer remarked that in my novel Hunter’s Daughter he was first exposed to that quality of the Inuit to listen so patiently, not interrupting, not in a hurry to do anything else or go anywhere, and in a while they can have a turn. So the stories are shared. Memories revived, decisions made. There is an implicit respect at work, and with that respect, the responsibility to address issues with direct and heartfelt speech.

It is gratifying to see this fundamental character of Inuit society portrayed so purely. While the film may seem, for many of us Hollywood-dazzled viewers, lacking in action and plot, it is slow with a purpose, one that dawns on us, also slowly. It tells us, in its own words: This is how it’s done. With respect, with laughter and tears, ears hearing and eyes seeing all.

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