Two lost souls touch in terrific Tkaronto
By LIZ BRAUN
A writer and a painter connect during an ongoing conversation about aboriginal identity in Tkaronto, an intense new movie from Canadian filmmaker Shane Belcourt.
In Tkaronto -- the Mohawk word for Toronto -- an Anishnabe painter named Jolene (Melanie McLaren) is working on a series of portraits of Aboriginal leaders.
When an elder (Lorne Cardinal) gives her an eagle feather, she begins to open up to him and talk about developing her spiritual life. Jolene meets Ray (Duane Murray), a Metis writer who has come to Toronto to pitch a TV series he's written called Indian Jones (!) Both Ray and Jolene are far from home.
They begin to talk to each other about levels of "native-ness." What does it mean to be Aboriginal?
Jolene wishes she could speak her own language. Ray tells the story of seeing Dances With Wolves at the movies, as a child, and then asking his Metis father if there were Aboriginal camps where he might go to learn to hunt and portage.
Ray and his wife, who is not Aboriginal, are expecting their first child, and he has conflicting emotions about the approach of fatherhood.
Also, his wife has been urging him to go along with the TV executives in Toronto and take whatever work they offer, but their attitude toward Ray's series and toward the depiction of Aboriginals in that series is embarrassing.
Ray really doesn't want much to do with these guys.
On her side, Jolene is determined to learn how to pray and how to walk a spiritual path, but she fears that such a move will threaten her marriage.
Her husband, an actor in Los Angeles, might not understand. Jolene and Ray explore the city of Toronto together, expanding their conversation about urban Aboriginal identity and finding themselves growing attracted to one another.
Questions of culture and belonging seem easier to answer in each other's company -- but neither is free to see where that might lead.
Tkaronto has been called an Aboriginal version of Before Sunrise, and it's not a bad description. The film is smart and sexy and arresting, and the performances (especially from Melanie McLaren as Jolene) are terrific.
The movie is a labour of love from all concerned. Tkaronto was made on a budget of about nothing over 17 days; there were six crew members, and filmmaker Shane Belcourt was writer, director, cinematographer and producer. And songwriter.
Tkaronto was a huge success as the closing-night movie at the imagineNATIVe film festival in Toronto last fall, playing to a sold-out crowd for its world premiere.
This is a worthwhile indie feature attracting a lot of deserved buzz, so catch it while you can.
1 hour, 40 minutes
Starring: Melanie McLaren, Duane Murray, Lorne Cardinal
Director: Shane Belcourt
Sun Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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