Mike Magidson’s arctic bildungsroman Inuk follows a 16-year-old Inuit boy raised in total poverty by his alcoholic mother and her no-good friends in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. After a dust-up with his father-in-law, Inuk goes on the lam, is absorbed into a child-protection program, and ends up at an orphanage on the country’s frozen northern frontier, where he strikes up a friendship with a wild-eyed polar-bear hunter named Ikuma. The sagacious older man shows Inuk how to hunt and manage a dogsled, and this eventual return to nature ostensibly corroborates one character’s early observation that “No matter how long they’ve been away, the ice always whispers their names.” Inuk can boast of an exotic locale and rare potential, but in Magidson’s hands the filmmaking is disappointingly shopworn.
In the film’s introduction, Magidson’s camera glimpses, from Inuk’s perspective, the slow-motion death of his father, who falls into a lake through a patch of shallow ice. The film cuts back to the child as he looks away almost disconnectedly. Solitary to the end, Inuk isn’t a particularly fascinating character, but that’s not deadening; the story of an innocent and game-faced boy finding his true calling in nature could be successfully rendered pictorially, without a deep psychological hashing-out. As it stands, however, Magidson’s strokes are neither broad nor precise enough; placing his camera within Inuk’s field of vision while withholding interest in his protagonist’s view of the world, the director instead attempts to invest audiences in his characters solely via close-ups and blaring, generic music. The implication appears to be that this story is mainly important because you’ve already decided to watch it.
Against blistering morning sunlight, Ikuma is randomly shown slugging a bottle of what appears to be Fernet Branca; in the next scene, he drunkenly and abruptly terrorizes Inuk late at night in their tent. The script makes the repeated destruction of anything resembling an authority figure Inuk’s defining challenge, and his rapport with Ikuma is resolved in muttered Inuit incantations and the reaffirmation of alcoholism as a necessary evil. In its resolution, the boy literally recedes into the distance while a title card says that the teenagers in the film are from a real Greenland orphanage, visibly announcing that Magidson’s drama is actually verisimilitude. Trying to wriggle cohesive ideas from Inuk’s camerawork alone recalls David Thomson’s critique of Nicolas Roeg: “Need a man be praised for taking interesting pictures of Mick Jagger, the Australian desert, or Venice? Or would any novice find it difficult to make those subjects unspectacular?”