I said, in my very first review of a “Netflix Original,” back when the DVD turned streaming service was getting into acquiring and distributing its own movies, that intimate indie films should be their bread and butter.
They don’t cost much, they’re almost always worthier of a bigger audience than they ever find, and they lose nothing in translation to smaller screens.
There’s nothing epic about “The Body Remembers when the World Broke Open,” save for its title. It has no Oscar pretentions, again, save for that pretentious title.
But this compact, intimate story was well worth telling and is worth seeing, a drama told in real-time about two women of Native American heritage stumbling into one another and struggling to find common ground to solve a real world problem in big, impersonal Vancouver.
Co-writer/directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers wrap this story, set in an almost never-filmed culture’s diaspora, in rain and trauma, mistrust and the common ground of gender and race. A hyper-realistic character study in crisis is what emerges.
We meet Rosie (Violet Nelson) on the bus, followed by a long walk home to the apartment she shares with her grandparents. She is almost 19 and very pregnant, but seemingly happy about her state.
Aila, played by co-writer/director Tailfeathers, is meanwhile getting a pap smear at her OB-GYN, a young professional in a long-term relationship thinking about having a baby. She had an abortion, she tells her doctor, probably when she was about Rosie’s age.
We don’t see the brawl that sends Rosie running into the cold, rainy streets. We just hear the livid screams of her “lover.” She’s bruised, wet and shoeless. That’s how Aila finds her at the bus stop.
Aila hears the still bellowing boyfriend, sizes Rosie up and talks her into coming home with her. That’s where the questions start.
“Grew up on the Rez?” “Got anybody looking out for you, Rosie?” “So, what d’you think you want to do, then?”
No, she didn’t up on The Reservation. And “some people feel like they’ve gotta talk all the time.” Rosie is evasive, mistrusting of anyone or anything that would put her in “the system.” No cops. What is this half-Blackfoot/half Sami (Scandinavian indigenous) woman who is drying her clothes up to?
Aila: “You’ve got a mouth on you, hey? You think I’m trying to save your soul, or something?”
Rosie: “You sound like my case worker!”
They talk, tentatively, feeling each other out. Aila wants to get Rosie into an abused women shelter. Rosie wants her clothes out of the dryer, maybe the loan of a pair of shoes. We’re treated to a soft-sell sales job, trying to convince a battered, pregnant woman to remove herself from her bad situation, a defiant young woman determined not to be pushed into anything she doesn’t want.
When they’re not quietly bickering, they find amusement in the fact “everybody’s Native these days.” When they get into a taxi together, Rosie invents a hilarious story of how she is taking “my sister” to rehab. Hey, anything to give a taxi driver to talk about how long he’s been “a friend of Bill” (in AA) is good for a laugh.
And wait, Canadians don’t say “Ey” any more? It’s “Hey” here.
The lack of dramatic fireworks mute the film’s impact somewhat. And young Ms. Nelson has an unfortunate tendency to mumble, swallow her lines.
That’s OK. Watch it with headphones or earbuds, or rewind it a bit. Movies like “The Body Remembers when the World Broke Open” were what Netflix was made for.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, adult subject matter, profanity
Cast:Violet Nelson, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Charlie Hannah, Barbara Eve Harris
Credits: Written and directed by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:45