Gentle to a fault, Marie-Hélen Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu’s Uvanga tells the story of a half-Inuit teen Tomas (Lukasi Forrest) whose white mother (Marianne Farley) takes him to the northern village of his dead father. Initially, it seems Montreal-born and bred Tomas will have a rough time adjusting, but Uvanga is a studiously conflict-averse experience.
The arrival of Tomas and his mother generates some resentment from the dead man’s widow, Sheba (Carol Kunnuk), and her glowering bully of a boyfriend Ike (Pakak Innuksuk). But the warm embrace of the boy’s extended family, and particularly the grinning welcome of his half-brother Travis (Travis Kunnuk), sets the prevailing tone of cozy reconciliation.
It reveals something of Cousineau and Ivalu’s soothing M.O. that none of the movie takes place in Montreal, which robs it of the opportunity to emphasize not only how intense Tomas’s immersion in his father’s world must feel, but also how great the cultural and geographic distances between Canada’s north and south remain. Tomas’s relatively easy embrace of the Inuit lifestyle feels more romantic than organic, an inclination based less on internal growth than hopeful idealism.
This surplus of calm reassurance tends to hobble the movie’s dramatic momentum, nor is it helped by the fact that some of the key cast members – and the younger ones especially – are first-time actors whose expressiveness is limited primarily to the luminous radiance of their faces. As photogenically appealing as those faces may be, the movie’s words fail to measure up to either its big heart or pretty pictures.
And it is certainly a pretty picture, set during the season when the sun never sets and shot so that the light over the landscape is as rich and present as a character in itself. But even the natural beauty serves as reminder of what isn’t there, and I’m not just talking about nightfall. Darkness of all kinds is in short supply in Uvanga.