THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen could be considered a sequel to Atanarjuat. Not in any sense that a sequel is usually conceived to spin out further stories of the characters from a popular first work but in the sense that it is a natural continuation of the themes contained in the first film (although the trailer tries to give the impression that the case is more direct than this). Atanarjuat painted a densely anthropologically authentic portrait of the way that the Inuit peoples lived before European contact; The Journals of Knud Rasmussen extends that to tell the story of the encounter between the Canadian Inuit and Western civilisation, which essentially tore their native culture and beliefs away from them.
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is based in fact. Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933) was born of a Danish missionary father and Inuit mother and grew up in Greenland familiar with the Inuit ways. He journeyed extensively throughout Greenland and Alaska, and was the first person to ever cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled. Rasmussens most famous expedition was The Fifth Thule Expedition between 1921 and 1924 where he undertook no less than an anthropological charting of the culture and origins of the Inuit peoples of Eastern Arctic Canada, whose native ways were under severe threat of assimilation by European contact at the time. Rasmussens work is considered one of the most complete anthropological studies ever conducted of the Inuit people.
Zacharias Kunuk makes The Journals of Knud Rasmussen in essentially the same way that he made Atanarjuat. Upon a number of occasions, as he did in Atanarjuat, Kunuk immerses us in the traditions of the Inuit, showing various aspects of their day-to-day life in almost documentary-like detail their dietary habits, the building of igloos, the singing of traditional songs. Kunuk and Norman Cohn also have a wry grasp of characters and allow each of the mostly non-professional actors to speak naturally and their characters to emerge with considerable inner strength.
The film has a great degree of sadness as we see, from the point-of-view of the Inuit, the loss of their culture. The film pointedly takes the viewpoints of a number of different people, including those that have gone over to work for the Europeans. One of the most potent scenes is a monologue from Samueli Ammaq where he starts into hellfire Christian oratory, invoking people to give up their ways and tells how he as a shaman was brought to a point of doubt by missionaries and so decided to eat some of the sacred meats that he as a shaman was not meant to, in effect sacrificing his shamanistic abilities. Some of Cohns relived portraits are also captivating, especially when Pakak Innukshuk gives a long narrated story about his own cursed birth and how he and his mother were banished to an igloo for a year and he had to undergo various rituals while hunting in order to lift the curse.
The main problem that The Journals of Knud Rasmussen has in comparison to Atarnajuat is that it lacks an overall dramatic story structure. Atanarjuat took itself from an Inuit cultural myth and as a result had classic elements like heroes, villains, romance and a dramatic resolution to its story in between its cultural portrait. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is mostly just a series of character interactions centred around the tribes meetings with the Europeans. Most of the scenes are vignettes that could be arranged in a different order without substantially affecting what Knud Rasmussen is saying. There are various character arcs introduced most substantially Leah Angutimarik and her preferring to make love to her dead husband than her living new one but this never has any real resolution.
Like Atanarjuat, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen has a minor fantasy element, one that allows you to look upon it as being magical realist fantasy that emerges from a cultural-mythic worldview. In particular, we join Leah Angutimarik as we see her in a series of overlit and blurred shots making love to the spirit of her dead husband.
Zacharias Kunuk next went on to direct the Inuit revenge film Maluglutit/Searchers (2016).