Review: ‘Inuk’

“Inuk” may seem like a story told many times before: A boy is removed from his home, given a chance to repair his wounds and become a man. It’s a simple sort of story, one that usually ends in triumph for the boy, as he realizes his true self and begins to become a wiser and stronger person.

But the strength in director Mike Magidson’s “Inuk” is not the story itself – which is based on a true story – but in how the various characters show enormous depth in the midst of the most imposing character of all: a harsh, biting white wonderland.

“Inuk” is based on the work of Inuit dog sledder Ole Jorgen Hammeken and his wife, creators of The Children’s Home in far north Uummannaq, Greenland. The home brings in abused, orphaned or troubled Inuit youth and gives them a home to interact with other children and, hopefully, find their way through their struggle. In “Inuk,” the title teenager (Gaba Petersen) arrives at the home a lost child, abused by an alcoholic mother and her unsavory friends. Inuk meets children with situations like his, including Naja (Sara Lyberth), who takes an interest in him early. “She understands me,” Inuk later says.

The caretaker of the home (Rebekka Jorgensen) sees Inuk has a history of ice hunting, specifically, seals and bears. His father, Inuk says at one point, killed dozens of polar bears way out on the arctic ice. Later we’re alluded to the fact that Inuk’s life may be legend in the ice hunting community. So the caretaker sends Inuk out with local dog sledders, including Ikuma, a revered and brutish hunter who hopes to catch a bounty of seals. He’s played by his real-life counterpart, Hammeken.

What results is a road movie, but one on the great icy expanse of northern Greenland, where danger is always possible and survival is at the forefront. This is where the movie really takes off – from fun scenes showing the children playing soccer to swift sledding scenes, where Inuk must learn to control his dog team by whipping them (but with respect), the ice is the most prominent character on screen, showing that the Inuits depend completely on this fading resource. Cinematographers Xavier Liberman and Franck Rabel are nearly flawless in their execution, whether getting low in the dog sled and following the ice at full speed, or stepping way back to capture the sleds, miniature and insignificant out on the ice, as they navigate the treacherous winter.

But Magidson doesn’t get too cozy with the Arctic beauty. As Inuk gets closer to both Ikuma and Naja, we get to look in their eyes and see beautiful, smooth-faced people hurt by the emerging modernization of Greenland. Petersen wells up a mixture of emotions throughout, and as he opens up, the film opens up a little, too. Hammeken, meanwhile, is the unnerving force of the film. With a steel reserve, he dominates his scenes. We learn that bonding isn’t easy, and “Inuk” makes sure to pound that home.

Inuk’s past demons flair up once more with Ikuma, who has demons of his own, and it leads to a thrilling search and rescue through the breathtaking Arctic world.

And again – what a world. “Inuk” is ambitious in its storytelling, getting right up against the harsh winter winds and exposing a white Greenland that’s getting ever warmer. What results is a gorgeous white template – it’s a treat just to watch the land. That “Inuk” is an effective and emotional story makes it all the more important. It’s a very special movie, with very special people in a very special land.

Rating: 4 stars (outstanding)

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  • Blog Author

    Timothy Malcolm

    Timothy has been the arts and entertainment editor of the Times Herald-Record, based in Middletown, N.Y., since 2008. He covers a wide array of topics, focusing on performing arts, film and the visual arts. Read Full
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