Nuummioq tells the story of a young man’s odyssey from mundane existence into an acute sense of the sacred. Like most regular guys in the tiny capital city, Malik works, cavorts with buddies, and fools around-toggling between Danish and Greenlandic languages. All at once, when he discovers he’s very ill, mortality intrudes. Keeping the news to himself, Malik accompanies his cousin on a boat trip. What begins as an unremarkable outing becomes a transcendent journey at the edge of the world as he grapples with his elusive past and tunes into the present.
More than just a curiosity item as the first feature from Greenland, “Nuummioq” is a startlingly accomplished piece of filmmaking, all the more so considering many of the cast and crew are nonprofessionals. Anchored by a riveting performance by Lars Rosing as a robust young man diagnosed with terminal cancer, the film is not easygoing or for all audiences, but for those willing to venture, they will be rewarded with a deeply felt, finely realized film. Obviously not a multiplex item, “Nuummioq” should be a welcome entry on the festival circuit and a natural for a discriminating audience at home.
Filmed in Inuit and Danish around Nuuk, the capital of Greenland (the title means a resident of Nuuk), “Nuummioq” calls to mind Ingmar Bergman and other somber filmmakers from the North Country. But it is a movie full of vitality as it captures the rhythms (slow) and speech (limited) of life in a country rarely seen onscreen. Although certain aspects are specific and unfamiliar, daily events are not that different than for anyone else living on the planet.
Lars (Rosing) hunts, carouses with his friends and womanizes. He is a classic movie strong-and-silent type (reminiscent of a young Russell Crowe), but he has a sea of emotion under the surface. The film starts with him horsing around with his buddies about Viagra, and in a bar scene the camera lingers on the breasts of a young woman who picks him up. But directors Otto Rosing and Torben Bech (who also wrote the screenplay), have much more on their minds. This is just the starting point.
On a trip to the hospital with his Viagra-stricken friend, Lars passes out. Tests are done, and he finds out he doesn’t have much time left. Afterward, he sits in his pick-up truck and stares; nothing is said, but all the feeling is visible on his face. It’s an extraordinary moment and a great piece of acting.
Lars gets on with his life, such as it is now. He tells no one, not the elderly and loving, but equally silent, grandparents he lives with, nor his cousin and best friend, Mikael (Angunnguaq Larsen), nor his sometimes-girlfriend (Julie Berthelsen). All of them are holding a secret from the past, and now Lars is holding two secrets.
On a boat trip with Mikael on breathtakingly beautiful fjords, amid the nature that has informed his life, Lars comes to terms with his fate and settles some scores from the past. This is not a film with a great deal of action, at least on the surface, but the transformation of a good man is almost a miracle to watch.
Rosing and Bech never push the point too far or too heavily. Showing amazing restraint for first-time directors, they stand back and observe, seeming to always have the camera in the right place. Credit must also go to Danish cinematographer Bo Bilstrup — working only with two lamps purchased at Ikea — for so expertly capturing the shadows of life in Greenland.
Other tech credits, executed by a crew of pros from Denmark and amateurs from Greenland, are surprisingly smooth. The indigenous score by Niels Ostenfeld and songs from local artists are used to great effect and complement the story without overpowering it. Thanks to the communal contribution of all involved, “Nuummioq” is that rare kind of film where one can feel the weight and meaning of a kiss.
Humorous pic maintains an unemphatic but steady grip on its protag’s emotional awakening.
Purportedly the first locally produced feature film ever made in Greenland, “Nuummioq” is an engagingly low-key and increasingly contemplative look at a man’s journey across land and water to new-found self-awareness. Never less than a pleasure to behold thanks to the stunning landscapes and nimble handheld lensing, the mischievously humorous picture maintains an unemphatic but steady grip on its protag’s largely unarticulated emotional awakening. Unassuming, sympathetic effort will gain automatic entree to fests around the world based on the novelty of its origins alone and has a sliver of commercial potential in specialized Euro and North American markets.
That the film has turned out well at all perhaps rates as a mild surprise, not only because of the lack of filmmaking infrastructure in the sparsely populated nation (which is still largely administered by Denmark), but also because of its fractured production history; original director Otto Rosing reportedly became severely depressed and departed the production immediately after principal photography was finished in the summer of 2008, whereupon screenwriter Torben Bech assumed co-director status and oversaw editing and post-production with producer Mikisoq H. Lynge.
As it is, the pic is marked by a fleet editing style that skips from moment to moment while still allowing the story’s meditative aspects to take hold, although some patchwork is visible via the abundant layering of moody pop tunes, many of them in English. Importantly, however, the storytelling maintains its throughline and slowly develops heft despite the relative ordinariness of most of the action.
Title refers to “residents of Nuuk,” the small capital city of the giant, largely ice-covered island. The main resident in question is Malik (Lars Rosing, the original director’s brother), a ruggedly attractive blond carpenter who’s good with his hands — he’s an expert outdoorsman and has no trouble getting women — but spends most of his time bumming around with his cousin and best friend, Michael (Angunnguaq Larsen), and rotund buddy Carsten (Morten Rose) who, early on, endures a painful overdose of Viagra. The horizons around Nuuk appear distinctly limited and Malik seems to lead a thoroughly unexamined life.
All that changes when he gets some bad medical news that sends him on a boat journey with Michael to a remote and strikingly barren area where unexpected encounters with death, long-ignored family skeletons and the simple power of nature lift Malik, if not to an exalted sense of his place in the grand scheme of things, then at least to a clear-eyed view of his condition and priorities.
Considerable sensory and sensual gratification stems from the superb, assuredly unfamiliar settings, which include iceberg-bearing bays, stark, rocky terrain and bracing coastal areas; Bo Bilstrup’s crystalline widescreen lensing; the great beauty of Julie Berthelsen, who plays Malik’s far more mature ladyfriend; and the unusual string-plucked musical offerings of composer Soren Hyldgaard. Performances are agreeably naturalistic.