Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Movie Review: Before Tomorrow

Before Tomorrow **
Directed By:
Marie-Hélène Cousineau & Madeline Ivalu.
Written By: Susan Avingaq & Marie-Hélène Cousineau & Madeline Ivalu based on the novel by Jørn Riel.
Starring: Madeline Ivalu (Ninioq), Paul-Dylan Ivalu (Maniq), Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq (Apak), Mary Qulitalik (Kuutujuk), Tumasie Sivuarapik (Kukik).

Before Tomorrow is said to be the third part in a trilogy following Atanjuarat and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. Although not directed by Zacharias Kunuk as the other two films were, he is on hand as a producer, and his star – Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq has a supporting role in the film. I know that The Journals of Knud Rasmussen was largely seen as a disappointment following the groundbreaking and brilliant Atanjuarat, but I found it to be a fascinating story about the moment in time when the Inuit’s “lost their way”. Both of those films were enthralling because they were a glimpse into a culture that has largely been ignored by cinema – or at least since Nanook of the North in 1922. But they succeeded beyond the level of a mere ethnographic film because they both had strong narrative threads that pulled us through the movie. Atanjuarat is a tale of lust, revenge and violence. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen a story of choosing between what you believe is right, and your own survival. The problem with Before Tomorrow is that no such narrative exists. It takes nearly half of its running time setting things up before the main thrust of the narrative begins. And when it does, it is hardly enthralling or engrossing. The filmmakers seem much more interested in taking gorgeous shots of the Canadian North – which it must be said it does brilliantly well – then in actually telling a story. As a result, I found Before Tomorrow to be an incredibly boring film.

The movie is about an old Inuit woman named Ninoq (Madeline Ivalu – who also co-wrote and co-directed the movie), who for years has gone to an island with her friend to dry out the fish in able to store it for the winter. Both women are getting old and closer to death (the friend more than Ninoq), and her son Apak (Arnatsiaq), wants her to let a younger woman go instead, but she will hear none of it. It is her job, and she’s going to go. Her grandson Maniq (Paul-Dylan Ivalu) volunteers to go with the two old women so he can look after them if something goes wrong. Soon, the old woman’s friend is dead, and when the family does not come back for Ninioq and Maniq, they head back to the camp themselves – to discover their entire family has died from a mysterious illness brought their by outsiders. Now the old lady and her grandson are left to fend for themselves for the winter.

I know what the movie is trying to say – that Inuit women are strong, and without them the tribes would not be able to survive. Early on in the movie, an old man tells a sexist story, and while the women laugh along with everyone else, when they retire and are alone, they mock the old man. When the rest of the family has died, it falls to Ninioq to raise her only grandson – and protect him from the elements. They help each other to survive.

But for me, the narrative never really took hold. For far too long in the movie, there is not much happening at all. There are long shots of the two of them walking in the snow covered landscapes, or trapped in their cave dwelling with only a small fire going. Not much is said, except for the occasional story that the old woman tells her grandson. Far more often however, they two just sit there, trying to survive. If the filmmakers were trying to show the monotony and boredom that comes along with this sort of life, then they succeeded brilliantly. It’s just not something I really felt the need to watch.

The film is directed by Madeline-Helene Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu. They do not have the same sort of cinematic eye that Kunuk showed in his two films. Too often when stories are being told, they place the camera directly in front of the people doing the talking. It is almost like one of those Andy Warhol screen-tests. They favor long, unbroken, steady shots for most of the rest of the movie, and while it makes for some breathtaking vistas, it is not very exciting to watch – and after a while, when they are simply capturing the same vistas again and again and again, it grows tiresome. When something exciting – like the wolf attack – actually does happen, the directors do not find an interesting way to shoot it, and it comes across as incredibly fake and staged.

I’m sure there are some who will like – perhaps even love – Before Tomorrow. Judging on its 10 Genie Nominations in fact, I would wager a lot of people will. It is a specific type of film for a specific type of audience. I have to admit, that in this case, I am not that audience. After the triumphs of Atanjuarat and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, this just felt like an afterthought.

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