Fifteen years after winning the prestigious Caméra d’Or for Best First Feature at Cannes for his debut Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (The Journals of Knud Rassmussen) returns with this Arctic epic, inspired by the classic John Ford western The Searchers, in which a vengeful husband sets off in pursuit of the men who kidnapped his wife.
While Kunuk and his collaborator Natar Ungalaaq (The Journals of Knud Rassmussen, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) hew closely to the basic scenario of the Ford original—wherein a white girl is abducted by members of the Comanche nation, sparking a seven-year search by her obsessed uncle—they have made a film that is very different in tone and feel. In the vast spaces of the Arctic, a family is torn apart when marauding men break into an igloo and abduct a young woman. When the woman’s husband returns to find his home ransacked and his wife vanished, he vows revenge. Gathering together a band of maliglutit (“followers”), the man sets out to rescue the captives. During the arduous journey across the tundra, Kunuk slowly transforms his theme from justified retribution to self-examination, as the film questions whether these hunters, ostensibly the heroes, have begun to act like those who have violated their family.
As with Ford’s The Searchers, Maliglutit (Searchers) explores the repercussions of acts of violence within a community and how righteous indignation can all too easily become wanton brutality in its own right. But Kunuk’s film goes beyond Ford’s as it forces us not only to interrogate the colonial ideology inherent to the western genre but also to consider the very possibility of justice in a seemingly unjust world. With this tale as timeless as the landscape in which it is set, one of Canada’s foremost filmmakers has provided us with another classic.