Métis mishmash: Tkaronto explores cultural, personal identity loss
Canwest News Service
Friday, August 08, 2008
Starring: Lorne Cardinal, Melanie McLaren, Duane Murray
Director: Shane Belcourt
Parental advisory: PG
- - -
Aboriginal cultures have traditionally been rooted in the land and nature that surrounds them, yet statistics show a growing population of aboriginal Canadians living in cities. What does that do to the identities of young people, already so assimilated into mainstream society?
Tkaronto is the original Mohawk name for the city of Toronto, and the title of first-time feature director Shane Belcourt's film, which asks that very question. To answer it, he introduces us to Jolene (Melanie McLaren), a 30-something artist from Los Angeles, who is researching a series of portraits of aboriginal leaders. She is in Toronto meeting with Max Cardinal (Corner Gas's Lorne Cardinal), an elder who is opening a healing centre in the city to help young people find their identities.
She meets Ray (Duane Murray, who is also a producer of the film), a Métis man aspiring to be a TV writer. He's in town to pitch a show and has arranged to room in the same house as Jolene. They strike up a friendship as they wander through the city, sharing stories and thoughts. The time they spend together sparks an interest in renewing their native traditions when they both realize their shared experience of cultural loss.
The strongest parts of the film are when Jolene and Ray are just talking, or even just spending time silently. Unfortunately, there are far too many scenes explaining the significance of symbols, traditions and historical information.
Cardinal's character is meant to give Jolene's spiritual side some wings, but in ploddingly laying out what every little thing means, the movie drags, complete with melodramatic violins.
Likewise, Ray's scenes with the TV producers are meant to show the racism faced by aboriginals in the media. But the media types come across as so cartoonishly bigoted that one tends to think that Ray isn't so much the victim of racism as he is of his own passivity in not saying anything about it. It's unnecessary to overstate those points.
Instead, it would have been far more effective to show how institutionalized, subtle and "civilized" that discrimination can be, as it is in real life, since that is far more insidious than any two-dimensional cartoon villain can ever be.
These scenes detract from the beautiful delicacy of Ray and Jolene's relationship, which are shot in a lovely shallow field of vision, as if to mirror the way that their identities are sliding in and out of focus in their journey to understand their own cultures.
Their shame about not knowing their language, religion and customs criss-crosses with conflicts they both feel in their personal lives back home, as Ray prepares for his first child and Jolene drifts away from her husband.
Both lead actors give great performances; it's delightful how intense, respectful and fun they make their relationship. Thankfully, we spend most of our time with only those two. It's in those moments that the film shines.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008
go to ottawa citizen website here >>