Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Snow Walker

“The Snow Walker” is a mystery to me. How could a movie this entertaining, this well made, and this gorgeous not be a huge hit? I’m sure its impassioned director Charles Martin Smith was more than puzzled. He was certainly heartbroken to see something, so clearly a labor of love, vanish as if engulfed by a blizzard, seldom to ever be seen again.

Based on a story by Farley Mowat, “The Snow Walker” has Smith on familiar terrain. He previously starred in Carroll Ballard’s superb film of Mowat’s “Never Cry Wolf.” Both are fish out of water stories where a man is gradually humbled by nature. Here, the man, Charlie, is flying about delivering goods to Inuit homesteads – and hoping for some lucrative trading – when he gets stuck with something unexpected, transporting a very sick young Inuit woman to a doctor.

While transporting her – characteristically far from his flight plan – his plane blows an engine and crashes in the middle of – at least to his eyes – nowhere. All he can see is tundra and water and more tundra, and a strange young woman who is so ridiculously calm that she simply climbs out of the wreckage and starts fishing. His reaction is yelling and sobbing and throwing broken bits of airplane into the air.

“The Snow Walker” opens with a shot of a mysterious figure emerging from a blizzard. It is a religious image. It immediately made me think that this is how legends are born. The impossible sight of a bearded and battered white man emerging from the frozen wasteland must have seemed only possible to the Inuit people who greeted him as an act of the gods.

Of course, behind every legend is a story and “The Snow Walker” rolls back the clock to tell that tale, one full of humor and sadness, and one that reveals an unsung and unexpected hero behind the hero, a young woman named Kanaalaq.

Once stranded, the film takes on a comedic, circular structure. Charlie is a man too self-centered to stand a chance. He’s one to believe it is him against nature while he will only survive as him with nature. And Kanaalaq will teach him this, but, first, he must lose his self, bit by bit.

He tries to fix the radio and accidently breaks it. He throws a tantrum. You can almost hear her laugh. He celebrates finding a rifle only to slip and fall, losing the remaining bullets. He leaves her to trek away for help, but you can still sense her sad amusement as he gets stuck in the mud and loses a boot to the muck.

But, after he awakens surrounded by a storm of mosquitoes and flees shoeless across the jagged rocks before collapsing, defeated; she can laugh no longer. She appears above him and begins treating his wounds and bites with mud and grass.

He has been reduced by his arrogance to little more than what he had at birth – later, Kanaalaq will scamper away with his clothes to mend them leaving him naked in a pond – and now the very earth he was fighting heals him. When the pair arrives back at the site of the crash, their real journey can finally begin.

Hopefully, when the movie plays at The Grand Theaters on Thursday, April 23 as the final movie in the Cinema 100 film series, it will emerge like Charlie from out of that blizzard, at least for one night for everyone fortunate enough to be in attendance.


Adam Zanzie said...

Charles Martin Smith is a director now? This is news to me! I want to see this film.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely wonderful film. I highly recommend it. It'll probably be a sleeper as those movie lovers like me discover it by accident.

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful movie and should have received several awards. It literally has it all - scenery, acting, sound, story. Barry Pepper and Anna Piugattuk are a great couple. I am not sure on some level that this isn't a love story.

Donna Field

Dutchman said...

I saw the movie just yesterday here in Holland on Belgium TV and I must say I've never seen such a fine movie before. Wonderful actors, especially Annabella Piugattuk (who is not an actress if I understand well?) was great.

Anonymous said...

brilliant movie ...watched over & over again...

Amitoj Gautam said...

Anna's character reminds me of Gelsomina in la Strada..Her silence spoke a lot. This movie is simply stunning in terms of portrayal of human bonding and emotions.

Anonymous said...

I imagine it wasn't a huge hit because of it's lack luster cast and it's story's lack of excitement. It was an interesting story, but it lacked passion. The male lead was passionate and frustrated at certain times. The plot could have been much more interesting if there was a love interest between the lead characters, or even a dynamic friendship was expressed.

He obviously cared for her at the end, but there was no scene of overwhelming sorrow in any of the actors, ever! Even this guy who disliked him and didn't care if anyone found him, the director did a horrible job tying his dislike into the story. Why doesn't he like him, is there a back story? Why does the boss fire him at the end.

The story in it self made it a good movie, the character depth and passion between characters was lacking.