Saturday, November 28, 2009

BEFORE TOMORROW opens at Film Forum, concluding The Fast Runner Trilogy


Probably the most popular Inuit movie in history (I realize there is not a lot of competition) The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat), released in 2001, became an interna-
tional hit. The 2006 follow-up, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, shown almost exclusively at festivals around the globe, did not fare as well. Now comes the final segment of what is known as The Fast Runner Trilogy:

BEFORE TOMORROW (Le jour avant le lendemain)
made in 2008. Compared to the original Fast Runner (TrustMovies has not seen the middle chapter which was never released in the US), you might call this one The Slow Mover -- so quiet, concise and unhurried is almost everything about the trilogy's final film.

Of the three movies, Before Tomorrow is the only one with female filmmakers in control, so I don' think we should be surprised at the resulting difference. The concerns here -- survival among them -- are not so different, but the film techniques -- pace Kathryn Bigelow -- definitely are. But how could they, why should they, not be? Why should we not expect women to be concerned with things differently -- and with different things -- than are men? In this story of a grandmother and her grandson who, with another old women joining them at the last minute, head off in warm weather to dry and store the tribe's meat for winter use, survival has less to do with running fast than with keeping your fire forever lit.

Death hovers over the film from its beginning (the gorgeous credit sequence melds smoke wisps and faces into a beautiful black-and-white vision of what seem like ancestral spirits), and remains present and persistent until the end. Why do things happen, questions the grandson? The grandmother explains as best she can. The pacing here is very slow, and you must acclimate yourself to it. Help is provided by the spacious vistas with their bright colors captured with crisp, high-relief cinematography (there's certainly little pollution in these locations to muddy up sharpness), as well as by a few of the fraught incidents that occur along the way. One of these vistas looks for all the world like something intergalactic.

Interestingly, much of the camera-work is done in close-up. With all the vast expanse on view, the directors (Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu, shown left and right respectively in the photo second from top) keep their camera tight in on the faces (as in the shot above of Ms Ivalu, who also essays the leading role of the grandma). This works more often than not, failing only in a scene such as the wolf attack, when most of the close-ups call attention to a small budget rather than enhancing the action at hand.

Often, the movie seems simplicity itself and correctly so. The musical score, provided by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, is splendid, particu-
larly their final buoyant but quite moving song. Especially telling is the film's use of fire as the symbol for life. We see it from the be-
ginning and hear a parable/story that signifies its meaning. Fire is ever-present throughout, tamped down though it is at night. This tamping ritual is shown at length several times so that, when we view it at the finale, it carries more meaning & weight than do all the souped-up special effects you'll see in something like 2012.

Obviously the big screen is the place to see a film such as Before Tomorrow, so a thank you is due NYC's Film Forum for providing the venue, beginning Wednesday, December 2. If you live outside New York, however, and wonder how you might catch this unusual movie, there's hope. To coincide with the theatrical debut of Before Tomorrow, the first two films in The Fast Runner Trilogy will launch worldwide with pay-what-you-can Video on Demand downloads at . And then, in early 2010, Before Tomorrow itself will be available for download at this same web location.

All photo are courtesy of Igloolik Isuma Productions.

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