One Day in The Life of Noah Piugattuk begins with a startling opening shot of an arctic morning. We see a snow covered Inuit land comprised of Igloos and sled dogs laying about. We hear the soft, quiet voice of the film’s title character reading from the bible as we cut to him inside his house sitting beside his wife who has yet to waken up and his daughter who is also sleeping. It’s a serene scene, and soon we see the wife wake up and begin making tea. The camera holds on this domestic moment without cutting, and it’s to the film’s credit, I remained transfixed throughout.
It was at this moment, I thought we were going to get what the title of the film promises, a regular day in the life of Noah Piugattuk (Apayata Kotierk), an Inuit elder who enjoys his existence living out in the arctic, hunting and fishing with his people, as well as drinking some tea. If the film was just about Noah’s life in the arctic, I would’ve been satisfied, as I have a soft spot for slowly paced films where nothing particularly important happens. However this film takes a shift when Noah’s daily routine is interrupted by the presence of a White man who isn’t given a name but is only known as “The Boss”(Kim Bodina).
The Boss is a government employee who is there to convince Noah to move his family from the arctic into a modern settlement. He is promised a wooden house with a heated stove, but also his daughter would be put into a Canadian school so she could be assimilated into their culture. This is not the first white man Noah has come across and he sees the whole request by him as pure nonsense. There is a disconnect with his way of life, and the way Canada wants him to behave, he doesn’t understand why he just can’t live where he wants. The boss tries to make it clear that it’s just not the way it can be done anymore, and that the indegenious people must all be accounted for by the government. This disconnect between them is even more apparent since neither person speaks the same language. Their one go-between is an Inuit interpreter (Benjamin Kunuk), who seems to struggle with communicating to each man what the other wants. Pretty soon we see the whole conversation turn into a practice of futility.
One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk is one of the most unique films I’ve seen this year with how it tells its story. It’s not a very fussy film, and is artful in its simplicity. It opens with Noah’s life in the arctic to show it has purpose and meaning, making it all the more heartbreaking that the government is taking him from it. The rest of the film is mostly comprised of the dialogue between Noah, The Boss, and the interpreter. It’s a conversation that moves in a circle, always ending up back where it started. At times The Boss feels like he is getting through to Noah, but there is little or no progress. The Boss is actually depicted as a very ernest man who doesn’t particularly like doing his job of government displacement, yet despite his sincerity, we know Noah can’t trust him.
By design the film becomes redundant, as the talking points keep coming up, and nothing is ever accomplished. What we do know by the end is that The Boss will return, and Noah seems to think it’s inevitable that he will some day have to relent and give up his life in the arctic.
The film is directed Zacharais Kunuk, himself an Inuit who’s claim to fame was 2001’s Atarnarjuat : The Fast Runner, which was voted the greatest Canadian film of all time in a 2015 TIFF poll. You can feel Kunuk’s love for the Inuit culture, and an admiration for Noah who was a real person, and who we get to see real footage of in the film’s very poignant ending.
There is also something that feels untapped in Kunuk’s film which we don’t usually get to see very often, and that is the arctic landscape. There are moments in the film which are truly breathtaking, as Kunuk lets us look in awe at the sheer majesty of the land which Noah is so in love with. There are also moments where the camera is mounted on a dog sled and we see members of Noah’s hunting team running beside it making the shot seem otherworldly.
One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk is a lived in film where the characters are aloud to breath in life. It’s also a very political film which stays true and never becomes condescending, but rather it shows the failure of colonialism with its slow redudant conversation which leads to nowhere. It’s a truly unique film which I admire very much, and demands your attention.
4 stars out of 5