(English and Inuit dialogue)
In what appears to have been a labor of love, director Charles Massot’s film recreates the amazing expedition made by filmmaker Robert Flaherty to the Arctic in 1919-20, which resulted in the first significantly commercial feature documentary, “Nanook of the North” (1922). Handsome pic, with spectacular location shooting in Arctic Canada and Russia, will be a tough sell but could play the fest route to good results.
Charles Dance is well cast as the dogged Flaherty, who undertook the rugged and dangerous trip on commission from Revillon Freres, the fur company. It was perilous, not only because of the danger from polar bears, but also because of the treacherous ice on which the filmmaker and his team trekked for miles to get their footage. Complications — such as film freezing and breaking — are graphically shown.
But this is also about the friendship between Flaherty and his real-life hero , Nanook, the Inuit who agreed to hunt in the old way — with spear and knife rather than with rifle — for the camera, and who faced many dangers along the way.
There’s little action in a conventional sense, yet the film exerts a spell, and the location footage is staggeringly beautiful. A scene in which Nanook approaches a huge walrus herd provides an amazing image.
Massot doesn’t delve into Flaherty’s post-production on the film (the negative was burnt and much of it had to be reshot later), nor does he include any footage from the original “Nanook.” Nevertheless, this is a remarkable achievement in many ways, and the natural performance of Adamie Quasiak Inukpuk, as the cheerful Nanook, is a joy to behold.
Pic is in English and Inuit, with English subtitles for the latter scenes.