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The Fast Runner

the Inuit movie is too long and too charming

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 17, 2002.

Okay, we need to do something about the French. Their government has just honored Danielle Steele for her contributions to the Arts. No longer were they satisfied with Jerry Lewis, they have now honored one of the cherished breed of romance novelists. Science was relatively certain they had killed all the egg pods left behind by Barbara Cartland when that aurochs passed into the mists of a moldy, fictitious England. It just goes to show, you cannot trust science. They’re alive and writing. And people read it. And the French honor it. From Benjamin Franklin to Danielle Steele, the slide continues.

Which brings me to The Fast Runner, an Eskimo film. Well, that’s incorrect, an Inuit film. Supposedly taking place about 1500 years ago, The Fast Runner is a most interesting endeavor, weighing in at almost three hours. Parts of it are beautiful; parts of it are fascinating glimpses into the lives of people who sleep in one huge bed on ice. Parts of it are incomprehensible, and all of it is done in Inuit. I found myself trying to place characters by their teeth. It is supposedly based on tales handed down by the centuries. It is possible. The performances are charming, the story often brutal and excruciating, the revelations about a culture that is, in essence, one huge case of cabin fever can be absorbing beyond the norm. There is no other movie to compare it to. That alone should draw raves. It is a ground-breaking and fascinating movie that won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival and caused a lot of excitement at Sundance.

Whether or not it’s a good movie is another thing entirely. I found all the critics saying that films like this - although there are no movies like this - showed up the hollowness that is Hollywood, because there were no special effects worthy of the name, and no stars, and no huge budget. It does all that. The pride and joy the cast so obviously took in making the movie is in your lap for the three hours, and given the grueling script, that pride is all justified and more.

But it also accented what is right with Hollywood movies. The Fast Runner is too long, and I could have edited pretty close to an hour off of it without, I don’t think, losing much. On the other hand the great length is true to the storyteller ethic, especially one that emerges from igloos of burning seal fat. It’s long because the telling of it is a cathartic. It may be necessary to the appreciation of the film to compose the mood. If so, then I withdraw my complaint, but we’ll never know.

Secondly, Hollywood has destroyed forever the old stage tricks of violence. It is no longer possible to stage fights that are convincing without a budget or actual blows being thrown. Watching the violence in this movie was like watching elementary school children stage Hamlet. Sincere, good attempt, but it doesn’t work, and its existence in the film casts doubt over all else.

That’s too bad, because you know if no money was spent to make a fight real, none would have been for anything else, and that everything else is real. Sunsets and vistas are breathtaking; amazing considering that the world of the Inuit is composed entirely of rock, ice, sky and ocean. There is little grass, there are no trees.

Still, a movie so different emerging from a people so little known deserves mention beyond the norm, and bespeaks good things emerging from Canada these days. Don’t tell the French.

My announcer, Tonja Loendorf, was hideously embarrassed in tennis today by a deformed old man. It’s possible her upcoming wedding diverted her attention, or that the fact she walloped the Sam Hill outta me last week had produced a certain amount of over confidence, or that she played down to my level. Of course, that's Loser Mentality. If so, good. Who’s the Man, Tonja? Who De Man!