In honour of Nomadland, here the directorial debut from Chloé Zhao. This is a deeply intelligent and sympathetic rendering of real-life situations, using nonprofessionals playing approximations of themselves.
Johnny and his sister Jashuan live with their single mother on a reservation. When their absentee father dies, Johnny feels compelled to strike out for a new life in LA, but fears leaving his sister behind.
This is a slow-moving portrait of a Dakota reservation that, like Zhao’s subsequent work, is told through a sublime mixture of non-fiction naturalism (the cast are all non-professional) and poetic lyricism. If it lacks the gripping qualities of the later works (especially Nomadland), it offers fantastic moments and eye-catching craft, and gives a rare authentic, empathetic insight into an under-represented community.
If Nomadland is a road trip across America, Songs My Brothers Taught Me is about characters resolutely stuck in one place. The heart of the story is the touchingly rendered relationship between high school senior Johnny and his 12-year-old sister Jashaun. Their bond is threatened when Johnny plans to leave for California with his girlfriend Aurelia, who is going to college in Los Angeles.
The director spent four years living on the reservation before shooting a frame, and that level of research and immersion courses through every frame.
USA 2015, 98 min, rated PG
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring John Reddy, Jashaun St John, Justin Reddy, Taysha Fuller, Irene Bedard & Eléonore Hendricks