Shari Huhndorf is a professor of Native American Studies and chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. She is the author and coeditor of a number of books including Mapping the Americas: The Transnational Politics of Contemporary Native Culture.
Benjamin Kunuk, Jocelyne Immaroitok, Karen Ivalu,
Maliglutit (Searchers) continues in the breathtaking vein of Canadian-Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk’s unforgettable Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Spoken entirely in Inuktitut, the new film zeroes in on a smaller-scale story of good versus evil, more immediate and desperate, and rooted in the Westerns that Kunuk grew up watching. A loose remake of John Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers [based on the book by Alan Le May], Maliglutit is more a study of cruelty than of racial hatred; the kidnappers in this story are of the same tribe, but are vulgar and selfish—they don’t share food—and have been exiled. It’s 1913, and Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) goes out hunting caribou and returns to find his wife and daughter gone, stolen like possessions. (The kidnapping sequence is shown in a panicky frenzy of swarming furs, twisting and squirming in and out of frame.) Kuanana and his teenage son head back out into the snowy tundra by dogsled, seeking their family members and cold revenge. Like Ford, Kunuk pays vivid attention to the landscape, using lengthy takes to emphasize growing exhaustion as the Arctic ice pummels the search party. The unsettling sound design features a kind of female guttural chanting, as well as animal noises, raising a sense of harrowing dread. At first sharp and brutal, the film ultimately achieves a visceral, lyrical state.