Billed as the third part of a trilogy that began with Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and continued with their The Journals Of Knud Rasmussen, the melancholy drama Before Tomorrow features a different writer-director team, but has a look and mood similar to the earlier films. Co-directors Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu (working from a novel by Jørn Riel) follow an Inuit tribe in 1840 as they go about their seasonal rituals of celebration, fishing, and storage, all while whispering among themselves about the strange ways of the white folks that some of their people have recently met. The movie primarily focuses on an old woman (played by Ivalu herself) and her grandson (Ivalu’s real-life grandson, Paul-Dylan Ivalu) as they travel to a remote island to dry meat, then get stranded under mysterious circumstances. As the movie’s title implies, everything is about to change for these two. These are the last happy days before destructive modernity encroaches.
Unlike its predecessors, Before Tomorrow is a little too enamored of the idea of unspoiled innocents corrupted by outsiders. The characters in Atanarjuat and Knud Rasmussen were more complicated and flawed, while here, they’re sweetly superior. (An on-the-nose “natives are people too” theme song by Kate and Anna McGarrigle is another major miscalculation.) Unintentional condescension aside, though, Before Tomorrow succeeds for the same reasons the earlier films did: Cousineau and Ivalu take the time to document a way of life from the inside, making old Inuit customs and domiciles seem inviting rather than alien. There’s a lot of chatter around the campfire and swapping of songs and stories—many of which seem unscripted—and even when the scope of Before Tomorrow narrows to two characters, the filmmakers make sure we keep hearing those characters’ voices. That’s a marked, welcome contrast to other movies about remote cultures, which often favor silence and stillness. Before Tomorrow has a different agenda. It’s set in a forbidding landscape at a dangerous time, and Cousineau and Ivalu show how companionship and shared tradition can go a long way toward sustaining people even in the face of personal devastation.