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A white, Inuit boy named Avik is the focus of New Zealand director Vincent Ward's meditation on race and romance. In the opening moments of the movie, set in 1931 in the Arctic-Canadian settlement Nunataaq, Avik (portrayed initially by Robert Joamie) lives under the watchful eye of his grandmother (Jayko Pitseolak). While tagging along after British cartographer Walter Russell (Patrick Bergin), Avik falls prey to the "white man's disease,"--tuberculosis; to assuage his own guilt, Russell takes the boy to a Montreal clinic to recover. There, Avik meets Albertine, a mixed-blood Indian girl, and the two fall in love, but their relationship is quickly broken up by the Mother Superior who is in charge of the clinic. Years later, Avik again meets Russell, who this time is on a mission to recover the German U-boat lying wrecked off the coast of Nunataaq. Avik asks for Russell's help in learning the whereabouts of Albertine, and he gives the cartographer a chest X-ray of the girl which he has carried with him since their separation. More time elapses, and Avik (now played by Jason Scott Lee) has become a British bombardier fighting in World War II. He is sought out by Albertine (Anne Parillaud), who has become Russell's mistress. Still, she begins an affair with Avik; Russell soon finds out, and as revenge sends Avik and his crew on a suicide mission of which Avik is the lone survivor.

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