World Cinema at Sundance: An Inuit tale, “Before Tomorrow”
Two older women and a young man take an annual trip to an island where they dry fish, expecting to be taken home before the water freezes. When they fail to return at the expected time, and after the oldest woman passes away, the boy and his grandmother must find ways to cope on their own. Before Tomorrow is the third in a trilogy of films (beginning with The Fast Runner and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen), made by contemporary Inuit natives as a way of recapturing a sense of their past. This one is the feature debut of Madeline Piujuq Ivalu and Marie-Hélène Cousineau of the Arnait Video Collective, based on the novel For Morgendagen by Danish writer Jørn Riel. It is a beautiful and intimate story, and the tenderness between grandmother and grandson is palpable and moving, as when she encourages him to speak bravely of his first seal hunt, asking him to elaborate on his simple tale, and invest it with a heroic quality.
The tribe that the three travellers belong to is a small and intimate group, who spend their time hunting and travelling, and sharing stories by the fire. An old man tells a story about a strange boat that came from nowhere bearing light-skinned travellers, who shared a strange and bitter drink with them that made them laugh, and then gave them needles as exchange to sleep with their women. Those listening are amused, but can hardly believe it. The implications of the story, that their isolation from the rest of the world is beginning to end, only later become clear.
Unlike Nanook of the North, Robert Flaherty’s classic but controversial film about traditional Inuit life, the film is clearly fiction, and the actors are acting rather than pretending. Nevertheless, the film feels remarkably authentic, the things they say appear spontaneous, their reactions genuine. The cinematography is simple and profound, alternating between panoramic snowy vistas and intimate and revealing handheld close-ups of grandmother and grandson. It is an astonishing, humanist vision of resilience in the face of tragedy, and of the power of stories to connect us to a known past as we move into an unexpected and unpredictable future.
For another take on the film, see Lizzie Kirkham’s review.