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Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn’s film about two Indigenous women says a lot about Canada
THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn). Opens Friday (December 13). 105 minutes. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The weighted encounter between the two Indigenous women in The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open is like an opening scene stretched out in real-time to cover the film’s entire duration it’s a brief interaction between women who are worlds apart, and it has a lasting, melancholic impact.
After a doctor’s appointment where she receives an IUD, Áila (co-writer and director Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) finds pregnant Rosie (newcomer Violet Nelson) barefoot on East Vancouver’s rainy streets. The latter is cowering from an abusive boyfriend in the distance. Áila takes Rosie to her apartment, retreating to safety while searching for a women’s shelter. The latter rebuffs and then cautiously entertains Áila’s help.
The entire film is based on a real-life encounter Tailfeathers experienced years ago. The actor and filmmaker, alongside co-writer and co-director Kathleen Hepburn (Never Steady, Never Still), unpack the experience by reliving it in a sense, vigilant to the history and the urgent issues facing Indigenous women today as they creep into the details.
In a fleeting exchange, Tailfeathers and Hepburn grapple with complicated emotions around motherhood and intergenerational trauma. What remains unspoken but deeply felt is the fear that authorities might take Rosie’s unborn child due to her precarious situation. Canada’s history of removing Indigenous children from their homes hangs like Vancouver’s cloud cover over these women.
We’re caught in these feelings. This vital film, exquisitely shot on 16mm to look like it’s happening all in one take, doesn’t offer a reprieve. The characters never get very far. They’re stuck in that opening scene. And that says a lot about how progress in this country is hard to achieve.