When two women of Indigenous descent meet in a chance encounter, their lives, fears, identities and predicaments are illuminated in the subliminal tension of mundane moments; The quiet silence of thought and apprehension, the disquieting stillness of mixed emotions and the unfiltered sounds and words of muttered breaths, internal conflict and desolate resignation. As one struggles to save another from domestic abuse, the film is immaculately conceived and achingly shot to capture the struggles of womanhood. This is a film unlike any other. I am thoroughly flabbergasted by the power of this film.
But far more than that, it is a snapshot of life as it is and all its discordant elements, and pervades an undercurrent of untenable and reverberating institutional injustice brought upon Indigenous communities; The damage continues to pervade many facets of modern life itself where descendants live in the shadows of abuse, neglect and danger. Told entirely from two women’s perspective, The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open is groundbreaking cinema-verite; We follow these women at every step of their afternoon journey, each moment so laden with the unspoken, filled with such overwhelming melancholy, grief and joy. This is a stunning film that is at once so minimalist yet so powerful, so still yet so visceral, so in tune with the daily struggles of womanhood yet so generous in its bittersweet depictions of friendship and motherhood. As two women’s lives cross for a transient moment, the indelible struggle of life itself is never more understood and ever-present.
In a year filled with women-told stories, The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open stands out among a progressive and empowering field of important stories. It is not just a story about women. It is a story about Indigenous women in our modern day who are at the precipice of being forgotten completely, whose history is erased and who have been displaced, abused and neglected. Within even the most subtle of expressions and stillness, directors Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn find so much conflict, turmoil and tension between its two leads (Tailfeathers is one of the leads too). Even as both protagonists seemingly identify with a shared ethnic history, there is something so perceptive and honest about the prevailing class realities that cause rifts between our two Indigenous protagonists. The abrasive, heartbreaking and sometimes comedic honesty is so in tune with the realities of friendship. Born through the tumultuous coincidence of such visceral trauma, the tenuous relationship between the two women (played by Violet Nelson and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) sear deep into our hearts. “So do you still have a case worker?”
“I turned 19. So that’s it. But at least they left me alone.”
In one ephemeral afternoon that starts with the apprehensive embrace of two women and ends in the evening of lingering despair, The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open gives voice to the most marginalized in society. To see female Indigenous stories portrayed so beautifully by Indigenous actors and directors marks the film as a ground-breaking portrait of a life forgotten and a life in crises. But even in the trifles of their problems, the film is so filled with generosity for its characters who forge to live life on their own terms. Scenes range from female bonding and girl talk to extended scenes of menstrual cramps and bloodied tampons. Even as it is so steeped with the institutional injustices and abuse against both Indigenous communities and women themselves, it is first and foremost an empowering story of female agency in its most unvarnished reality. Often juxtaposing the discordant cacophony of background traffic to an internal stillness of conflict and reconciliation, The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open leaves a devastating impression of womanhood in flux. As the film’s final sequence whisks away into the dimming sunset, the dizzying coalesce of warm hues provide less comfort than turmoil. We are left with no answers and resolutions; Only the omnipresence of danger and the precarious insistence of female strength in a world that is violent and dark.