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Tautuktavuk (What We See): Film Review

Tautuktavuk (What We See) incorporates some strong themes but falls short in others, making for an uneven but intriguing piece.

Tautuktavuk (What We See) is one of the first pieces of art to analyze the COVID-19 pandemic in retrospect. While most of the hysteria and government restrictions have died down, the trauma of the event still lingers in the minds of many. For already isolated cultures like the Inuit, it was just another blow to their way of life. This is where Tautuktavuk shows its strengths, by looking at life in Inuit culture before, during, and after the event. It is an eye-opener because most of the events of this culture still go under reported to this day. It premiered in the “Discovery” section of the Toronto International Film Festival, and was a unique inclusion that fell a bit short in parts but overall is a revelatory experience.

The film is semi-autobiographical in nature. The co-directors play sisters Saqpinak (Carol Kunnuk) and Uyaruk (Lucy Tulugarjuk) who frequently communicate over Zoom. Uyaruk has moved to Montreal, Saqpinak has stayed in Igloolik, an isolated hamlet on an island in Nunavut. As one sister integrates into Canadian culture, one stays with her roots, leading to some tense drama between the two. They have differing ideas of life and family, but are unsure of how to address the changing world as the pandemic rages on.

Themes of loss linger heavily on the film. Loss of family and loss of innocence are the most apparent, but loss of culture is one of the more interesting facets of this. Saqpinak picks up the language, cooks over an open stove, and lives in a major city with a family. When her sister comes to visit, it is a culture shock, as her use of the language is more limited. When she gets her traditional Inuit tattoos as a milestone of her people, she refuses to have a white tattooist do the work, believing the ritual sacred. She wants to preserve whatever she has left to remind herself what the world may be losing.

loud and clear reviews Tautuktavuk (What We See) film 2023 movie tiff
Tautuktavuk (What We See) (TIFF 2023)

Tautuktavuk is at its strongest when showing Inuit culture from an insider perspective. In spite of this, much of the movie feels underdeveloped. Both sisters mention abuse by a priest as children, but aside from flashbacks, not much is done to build on it. Most of the sisters’ collective trauma is not used to its full potential and is discussed rather than shown. In one Zoom call, they mention how domestic violence went up under lockdown, but given how their own families are stable, it feels unnecessary, as this is not a problem for them. Most of the spotlight is shown on the sisters living their lives while not taking advantage of the deeper, grittier themes suggested in dialogue. As a consequence of this underdevelopment, the theme of childhood trauma may not ring through like it should.

Tautuktavuk has an interesting premise and concept, but falls a bit short in its execution. The parts about analyzing a specific culture and shining a light on their turmoil are effective, but the inner demons parts are not so much. Its short runtime needed to be expanded to incorporate these themes, and the consequence is what feels like half a movie. COVID trauma still triggers flashbacks in people, and perhaps this movie needed to be made to convey those feelings, but overall it feels like only a thumbnail sketch of what happened during those times

Tautuktavuk (What We See) premiered at TIFF on September 8, 2023. Read our list of films to watch at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival!

TIFF 2023: 10 Films to Watch – Loud And Clear Reviews
A list of 10 films to watch at TIFF 2023, from anticipated movies to hidden gems premiering at the Toronto Film Festival on September 7–17.
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