The Journals of Knud Rasmussen

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The Journals of Knud Rasmussen
Review (8/10)
(By Liam Cullin)


The opening night gala at this year's Toronto International Film Festival was a truly Canadian film - The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, a film written and directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Kohn ("Atanarjuat The Fast Runner").

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is the true story of an Inuit Shaman named Avva and the struggles he encounters amidst the changing world around him.

The film, set in Canadian Arctic in 1922, introduces the viewer to Avva and his tight-knit family. His daughter, Apak, like her father, can communicate with the spirit world. Much to the bewilderment of her father, she chooses to spend her time in the company of her late husband, rather than use her gift for the good of her people.

The film's title character, Knud Rasmussen, is a writer and explorer who is visiting the Arctic, recording his journey and chronicling the lives of the Inuit people. Rasmussen, a trader named Peter Freuchen and Rasmussen's protege, Therkel Mathiassen, meet Avva and his family. When Natar, Avva's son, agrees to guide the group to the nearby community of Iglulik, he draws his family onto a path that will force them to abandon their beliefs and that will change their lives forever.

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is a visually impressive film. Although some who viewed the film commented on the lack of scenery in the Arctic snow, I found the cinematography to be outstanding. I could feel the Arctic chill emanating from the screen.

Far from an action film, the Journals of Knud Rasmussen is a film which relies heavily upon its dialogue to convey its message. The dialogue in the film was challenging, but interesting. As the film is subtitled, the audience must follow the film carefully or risk missing its nuances. Although I found this difficult at times in the face of lengthy conversations and soliloquies, I found myself rewarded with a story which left me thinking long after I exited the theatre.

Kunuk and Kohn once again relied upon the talent of members of the Inuit community to bring their story to life on film. It contributed to the authenticity of the film to include both actors and non-actors who were familiar with the language and the culture of the Inuit people. Their expressive faces and soulful eyes spoke as clearly as any words uttered by the film's characters.

At a time when Canada's aboriginal community struggles to seek redress from the federal government for the erosion of their culture perpetrated by the residential school system, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is an extremely compelling and relevant film. Although told through the eyes of an Inuit family, this is a film which should not be missed by any member of the aboriginal community who is interested in gaining insight into the struggle of their ancestors to maintain their traditional cultural and spiritual beliefs at the turn of the century.

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