How much do we know about the Inuit who live in the Arctic? It’s a question that Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu (Before Tomorrow) ask by proxy in their second directorial collaboration, the intriguing Uvanga.
It’s a fiction film, centred on a broken family. Anna (Marianne Farley) is a teacher from Montreal who brings her teenage son Tomas (Lukasi Forrest) back to Igloolik, Nunavut, to learn about his aboriginal heritage, following the mysterious death of the boy’s father.
Anna had an affair with Tomas’s dad a decade and a half back, while visiting (and presumably working in) the Arctic community. Their brief union caused ripples then, and continues to do so now. There is a spurned wife, Sheba (Carol Kunnuk), and her son, Travis (Travis Kunnuk), half-brother to Tomas.
Anna’s presence reopens old wounds, within the community and her own psyche. She is overly protective of Tomas, and worried about bringing him into such a loaded environment, which is at once foreign and close to them both.
Tomas isn’t happy about it either. He wants to go home at first, but he wonders about his father – who he was and how he died. And he is drawn to Travis, the brother he never knew, who is going through growing pains of his own.
The film’s strongest moments lie in the relationship between the two boys. As they venture out into the nature around them, we sense their growing bond. In these scenes, the lush cinematography is given a chance to work its magic, capturing the serenity of the landscape.
Uvanga is an honest, earnest story about a community we see far too little of on the big screen. Like Anna, we must slow down in order to appreciate a simpler way of life, and the more genuine human interactions that come with it.
– T'Cha Dunlevy, The Montreal Gazette