The pure white and blue beauty of Greenland’s stunning icy landscape is paired with an involving story of a traumatized teen reconnecting with his ancestral ways in Mike Magidson’s enjoyable feature debut, “Inuk.” A rare Greenland production (with joint French coin), this is solid family fare that combines a sympathetic protag with an exotic locale for overall pleasant entertainment. “Inuk” has been picking up awards at a slew of second-tier fests, and while wide distribution will remain elusive, satcast sales and school programs should increase visibility.
U.S. helmer Magidson and French co-scripter Jean-Michel Huctin aim to touch on multiple interconnected themes, encompassing not just changing lifestyles and personal tragedy but global warming as well. While the pic at times feels as if it’s trying too hard to incorporate all the expected hot-button topics, it generally manages to does so without feeling overly preachy. The bare-bones outline is more or less a template shared with other films about indigenous peoples, yet “Inuk” still reps an appealing, well-crafted look at a little-seen community.
While dogsledding with his parents, young Inuk (Ivaq Morch) sees his father (Hendrik Qvist) crash through weak ice and drown. Fast-forward to the teenage Inuk (Gaaba Petersen) living with his now-alcoholic mother (Elisabeth Skade) in Greenland’s nondescript capital, Nuuk, cut off from traditional Inuit practices. Mom’s inability to look after her son draws the attention of social services, and Inuk is taken by Aviaaja (Rebekka Jorgensen) to a group home in the east coast town of Uummannaq, near the family’s former stomping grounds.
Though he’s a nice kid, Inuk is emotionally shut down, so Aviaaja pairs him with troubled hunter Ikuma (Ole Jorgen Hammeken) for a seal-hunting expedition that will connect the teen with his immediate past, as well as the heritage he’s been disconnected from for too long. It’s a well-worn plot device, and a scene with a drunken Ikuma, meant to reveal his own pain, is clumsily handled, but the bonding process, set against the vast snowbound landscape, has a satisfying emotional pull.
The narration, first by Inuk and then by Aviaaja, is too full of platitudes, like “When the wounds are deep, every step is a journey,” skewing the pic toward Afterschool Special territory. Given Magidson’s skill in telling his story visually, there’s no need for such remedial assistance, and the pic’s lessons about the impact of global warming on the fragile arctic environment work precisely because they’re not oversold in the voiceover.
Thesping from the cast of non-pros is generally strong, especially from Petersen, whose guarded facade slips just enough to allow glimpses of the pain inside. Lensing couldn’t have been easy given the difficult conditions, yet visuals are a pleasure, with dogsled sequences providing the sweep and beauty expected from such environs. Editing, too, is well handled and unobtrusive, especially in the way the dogs’ energy and anxiety is intercut to reflect their handlers’ emotions.