The Inuit (Inughuit) family in Heart of Light (Qaamarngup uummataa, 1998) are descendants of hunters. In the modern age they are void of hunting expertise, except in their fantasies & remembrances of past times.
Rasmus Lyberth (a well known singer in Greenland) plays the character of Rasmus who lives in dreams of being a great hunter though he's really the village drunk. As an actor, Lyberth reminded me of the Mauri actor Anzac Wallace. Wallace played Te Wheke in the period revenge flick Utu (1983), as a combination of a Kurosawa samurai & Charles Bronson.
Because Lyberth could easily have played just such a role with Te Wheke's degree of power & beauty, it is all the more tragic to see such a man of potential mightiness so utterly lost in the modern world, a hunter only in his imagination.
This is the first Greenland film to gain international distribution, as wel las the first feature film produced entirely in that large nation of small population. It captures something about that icy country that is at once aesthetic, bold, & sorrowful, & it's a work of art deserving of the national pride it has engendered.
Of the two sons of Rasmus, Simon (Kenneth Rasmussen) is practical, & knows what the modern world is actually about. He doesn't want to agree to go on a pointless fool's hunt with his alcoholic dad, who embarrasses him, & whose plans for the hunt never happen.
Simon is getting a good education & intends to succeed in the world that actually exists, rather than fail in the snare of his father's fantasies. He's engaged to a modern Inuit girl, Karina (Laila Rasmussen), who speaks Danish more than her own language.
The other son, Niisi (Knud Petersen), wants to believe in his father as a great hunter, & is called "The Hunter's Son" by others of the village though no one's ever seen the dad hunt anything. Every time a promise of a hunt with his father is delayed so his father can go on another binge, Niisi's spirit becomes a little more broken.
Dad is so sweet, so upbeat, it's hard to despise him even when he's a roaring drunk. In the tavern, he's encouraged by friends to tell his munchausean hunter's tales, which makes him happy, whether he is laughed at as deluded, or admired as a storyteller.
When he comes home drunk, his devoted & loving wife Marie (Vivi Nielsen) is aroused by his fantastic tales of the day's hunt. Her love of her husband is endearing, her erotic desire for him lovely. Her eagerness to hear his hunting tales while they make love makes his fantasies a shared dream. Yet to great extent her supportiveness fascilitates his life as the village drunkard.
Niisi meanwhile is vanishing into despair. He, like his father, belongs to a past age, & like his father the loss of tradition has left him empty. One night while his father lays unconsciousness from booze, he sneaks into the bedroom & takes his dad's prize rifle. He crashes into the party of some young people & threatens them because they love Danish culture. He kills Simon's fiance Karina, then heads into the glacial wastes where he kills himself.
Until this sudden catastrophic event, the film had a lowkey attitude, fascinating for capturing the lives of Inuit's in a modernizing world, a gentler version of Once Were Warriors (1994) showing Mauri life damaged by modern society defined by white settlers, as modern Inuit life is damaged by having adopted too much of Danish culture.
But with the horrific turn of events of Niisi's rampage of murder & suicide, the tone changes to one of deep mournful pain. Rasmus is pushed the verge of emotional annihilation. He sits with his long neglected dogs, not yet sober, & begins to hook them up to the broken sled. Without planning, without sufficient supplies, with inadequate rubber boots, he sets out into the frozen waste on a hunt.
He seems likely to die as everything goes wrong. His few provisions are stolen. His dogs run off. The thief who got his bag of meat is an elderly man (Anda Kristiansen) who lives in the snowy wilderness. Rasmus sees him as a ghost from another age & assumes the old man is a trickster spirit, a Qiuittok.
Although at first this seems mere superstition, in fact the story has by subtle stages turned into a poetic tale of heroic fantasy.
Rasmus's transformative journey brings him into contact with a witchy supernatural woman living in a stone house, who reveals to him the ghosts of his past. The Qiuittok leads him to an abandoned village, where ghosts reenact a terrible moment in time that doomed the old Inuit to this life as a spirit of the ice & snow.
The healing that concludes his odysey is perhaps a little too pat, for it remains that his son was a murderer & the combination of grief & shame would not go away after a visionary quest. Heart of Light wants to end upbeat when it realistically it could never be that. It should've been a subtler level of hope that begins with sobriety & pursuit of the hunter's dream as more than a drunkard's tale. It's hard to find fault with the film even as it stands, however, as it's a true masterwork, fresh & cinematically gorgeous.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl