Critic: Song My Brothers Taught Me

Critic: Song My Brothers Taught Me

Dir: Chloé Zhao

Official Selection International Feature Length Film: United States

Brothers taught meThe Richter Scale says: Typically, when we name a film’s protagonist, we’re talking about its chief character who is a person, but in some cases it might be more accurate that the place where the film is set is acting as its protagonist. We say this when the place is so specific that no one imagines the people in it existing anywhere else or when the place itself (the community, the landscape, the bond that the people have with it) plays a key role in the decisions they make. In her feature directorial debut, Chloé Zhao takes us to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where many of its inhabitants have alcohol problems and where it’s very likely that your neighbor is somehow your relative, but it’s the place where these people live and it means something to all of them.

We see this place through the eyes of Johnny Winters (John Reddy), who recently graduated High School and is getting ready to move to L.A. with his college-bound girlfriend, as well as the eyes of his 11-year-old sister Jashuan (Jashuan St. John). To this girl, her older brother is her safety net and now that he’s leaving, she’ll have to find someone else to protect her. When they find out their father (who they barely even knew) just died and they meet every relative this man left behind, Johnny and Jashuan obtain a new point of view of what it means to be in a family.

Songs-My-Brothers-Taught-MeThere is very little plot, which allows the audience to have a clear sense of this place through the gorgeous cinematography that captures the reservation’s valleys (which despite feeling desolate, are strangely homey) and in scenes of these people gathering in dance halls or in each other’s houses to smoke and hang out like people do. Most of the actors are first-timers, which gives the characters a sense of naturalism, but among them is veteran actress Irene Bedard (the voice of Pocahontas in Disney’s film of the same name) as the mother of these two siblings and she adds a more experienced dramatic weight to what’s going on in the film (that weight builds a nice bond with the naturalism of her two on-screen children). The relationship between Johnny and Jashuan is the heart of the picture and it’s through them that we connect to this place that, in spite of its constant conflict, means everything to them.

This film will screen at the Ángela Peralta Theater today at 2:00 pm and in Guanajuato City Friday the 24th of July at the Juárez Theater at 2:00 pm.

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