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Before Tomorrow
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by Slyder

"Well intentioned but ultimately lacking"
3 stars

I was looking forward to this film on day 2 of the Sundance Film Festival, mainly due to the cultural aspects that it depicted considering the Inuit tribes, an ethnic culture I had only heard of in passing, so I was hoping to get some sort of insight on this tribe and their customs as well as enjoying whatever story the movie was about to bring about. Unfortunately, Before Tomorrow, despite a very interesting premise, falls victim to its own artistic indulgences that ended up sapping the energy off it from which had in very short supply from the very beginning.

The story sets itself on the late 19th Century on the tundra lands of the north, almost nearing the Artic Circle, where an Inuit tribe lives off the land; hunting, fishing and enjoying their ordinary lives. It’s in this tribe where we meet the protagonists, Grandma Ninioq (Madeline Ivalu, who also co-directed the film with Marie-Helene Couisenau), and her grandson Maniq (Paul-Dylan Ivalu). Maniq’s dad, Apak (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq) who of course is Ninioq’s mother, decides to take them and an old woman called Kuutujuk (Mary Qulitalik) towards the northern lands where the tribes safeguard and dry their meat for the winter. During the preparations, the village geezer, Kukik (Tumasie Sivuarapapik) starts telling the tribe stories about a weird foreign race that arrived a while back with, horses, powerful weapons, strange handshakes and weird artifacts made of a material that is stronger and sharper than their harpoons and slimmer than their arrows. Apak and the other hunters leave Maniq, Ninioq and Kuutujuk in the island to prepare to dry and storage the meat and promises to return once things are done. Kuutujuk however is very old and finally succumbs to her death. The remaining pair mourns her loss and wait for Apak to return, but he never does. Concerned, both Grandma Inioq and Maniq return to the tribal village only to find it ravaged by the plague and everyone including her son and father of his grandchild dead. With nowhere to go and the winter storms closing fast, Inioq and Maniq refuge themselves back on the island on a nearby cave which they used to store the meat, and from then on hope that they’ll be able to survive the elements of their environment for as long as they can.

Both Madeline Ivalu and Marie-Helene Couisenau reveal a true and honest depiction of the tribal life of these people. Shot with hand-held cameras, and with a very clear image, it makes the film feel almost like if you were watching a documentary. The artic landscapes photographed by Norman Cohn and Felix Lajeunesse are incredibly beautiful, with several panoramic shots depicting the cold, desolate world containing an almost invisible glimmer of the sun arising or setting on the horizon. The impact of the images is powerful enough that you manage to relate the icy-cold hell that grandmother and grandson have to endure. Unfortunately, the film’s technical strengths are weakened by the rather meandering script and pedestrian direction. It seemed to me that both Cousineau and Ivalu are trying to achieve a rather poetic touch to their film similar to the works of Terrence Malick, but they don’t have enough story in their material to muster and keep the movie chugging along save for a few dramatic moments (the aforementioned plague-devastated village and then an encounter with artic wolves). Malick, apart from using his camera as an instrument of storytelling, also had a solid storyline or background to lay his cinematic poetry on. Where cinematography (as well as voice-over narrations) in Malick’s films is an asset, here in this film is actually a liability. Several scenes run overlong and contain long takes that contain little or no raison d’être except for maybe documentary purposes (and that’s a stretch calling it that way because technically this film is not a documentary). These overlong scenes and unnecessary over-attention to detail become a big handicap ever since the the movie's first scenes, and ultimately end up killing off any momentum or interest it generated in the first 2/3rds of the movie. Add to the fact that there’s very little voice-over narration to sustain the film on its dull parts, and that ends up being the coup de grace. By the time the final melancholic song “Why must we die” hits the speakers, I had pretty much lost any interest on the fate of these two main characters. It’s truly a shame because this film had some really good potential, and had some very interesting details in its storyline that would’ve been explored further. Nevertheless, the arc that the story ultimately explores is one that in analysis is heartbreaking and sad, but any dramatic punch is lost by the film’s excessively laid-back pace and dull settings (and let me remind you that this film only lasts 93 minutes!).

Both Paul Dylan-Ivalu and Madeline Ivalu exonerate themselves in the acting department giving very honest performances, even if at times their Native-American faces gave the impression of being at times a little wooden. In the end, I really wanted to enjoy this film, because I do appreciate any movie depicting the cultural traits of a civilization or tribe; that alone made me want to see this film. Unfortunately, it’s too bad that the filmmakers did not manage to muster up enough of a compelling storyline from their source material (the screenplay was adapted by a novel by Jom Riel) and rather tried using a good dose of cinematic tricks to make up for the difference. Rather what they achieve was a movie that's beautiful to watch but with a story that is painfully paper-thin and easily lost in a white and cold sea of pretentiousness. 2.5-5

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originally posted: 01/21/09 11:21:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/27/09 Dr. David Fredrick I viewed this film at Sundance. I thought it was fantastic; one of the best films 4 stars
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