Uvanga's unprofessionals are its stars

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Starring Marianne Farley and Lukasi Forrest. In English and Inuktitut, with English subtitles. Rated PG.

Uvanga means “myself” in Inuktitut, and this same-titled movie does an admirable job of taking the viewer inside the minds of people whose selfhood is almost entirely ignored by Canadians at large. If some of the niceties of everyday storytelling are sacrificed, perhaps that’s part of the price of getting to know our more distant neighbours.

The story, as devised by writer Marie-Hélène Cousineau and her codirector Madeline Ivalu, who also plays a local woman, follows redheaded Montrealer Anna (Marianne Farley) as she brings her half-Inuit son Tomas (Lukasi Forrest) back to Igloolik, the birthplace of his father. The lad is welcomed by his teenage half-brother (Travis Kunnuk), warm-hearted grandparents (Ivalu and Samson Kango), and dignified but anxious uncle (Pakak Innuksuk). But other, more trouble-prone people give his mom a hard time for having been involved with the boy’s dad, called Caleb, in the first place.

Outsider Anna is not exactly what you’d call an exciting personality. And while the red-haired, fair-skinned Farley stands out in this setting, her uniformly flat verbal delivery doesn’t add much. And bringing up a medical problem in the final quarter feels like a random stab at character development, or at least plot advancement. (Newcomer Forrest isn’t much stronger as her son.)

Uvanga is pinned on the mystery surrounding Caleb’s disappearance, many years earlier, but this hook is not very interesting, except as a metaphor for what’s been lost in Inuit communities. Fortunately, the movie shines when it focuses on what’s still there: community, history, and a sense of humour, especially as expressed by the older people. The nonprofessionals here are so delightful, in fact, that you find yourself wishing that the foreground folks would just shut up and let the old-timers talk. When they do, you discover a world worth protecting.

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