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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is a frank slice-of-life drama in which a young, pregnant, poor Canadian girl escapes her abusive boyfriend and encounters a sympathetic middle-class woman who tries to help. Although both women have indigenous roots, everything else about them underscores their differences -- education level, economic status, skin color. For Canadians familiar with recent revelations about deaths and disappearances of indigenous women, this may have more resonance than for other audiences. Domestic violence is a main subject. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "c--t," and "bitch." A pregnant girl stands barefoot on the street, having been beaten about her face and strangled by her boyfriend.
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What's the story?
THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE APART is a drama in which a young, pregnant, poor Canadian girl named Rosie (non-actor Violet Nelson) escapes her abusive boyfriend. Crying and bleeding, she stands barefoot in the rain, frozen on a Vancouver street until a well-dressed, sympathetic woman named Aila (Ell-Maija Tailfeather, also cowriter and codirector) stops to ask if she's okay. The voice of the furious boyfriend is heard cursing after Rosie as Aila runs Rosie to her nearby home. There she gives her dry clothes and tries to find her a shelter for the night. Rosie is skeptical of the assistance and still wants to return "home," to her abuser. That she has long been living by her wits becomes clear as she lifts Aila's wallet and steals meds from the bathroom cabinet with an eye to selling it later, even in the face of Aila's kindness. Although both women have indigenous roots, everything else about them underscores their differences -- education level, economic status, skin color. The implication is that Rosie's options are limited by lack of education and other factors, but she is extremely bright, quick, and perceptive and lets AIla know, "You're not better than me." Aila views this experience through an emotional lens fogged by having had an IUD implanted earlier in the day. While she tries to nurture a girl who will soon give birth, Aila suffers cramps and -- perhaps -- second thoughts about motherhood.
Is it any good?
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is a maddeningly slow-moving story that despite its pace still manages to offer absorbing sympathetic moments. Nevertheless, "story" is a generous word to describe this, a true encounter from codirector Tailfeather's life. The movie doesn't end but rather peters out, but Tailfeather says that's the way her encounter ended. Unfortunately, sometimes good story-telling requires improving on "truth" in order to create "art." And while performances here are sensitive, a creatively-constructed arc is what is missing, robbing the audience of what could have been a far more emotionally-involving experience.
The decision to shoot this in "real time" also adds long, tedious, nonessential running time that greatly dilutes the impact of more essential scenes. We watch the characters sit through a cab ride through traffic for six (!) long minutes (stop lights included), with barely a word of dialogue spoken. A woman goes to the bathroom and for five-and-a-half minutes we watch her clean her face and change her clothes, in real time. Why? Someone else goes to the bathroom and we have to watch her sit on the toilet, wipe, and change her sanitary pad, in real time. Why? The fact that men are next to nonexistent in this world also makes it a bit heavy-handed. In all, this may have more resonance for Canadians since a recent national investigation concluded that the disappearances and deaths of more than 4,000 indigenous girls and women add up to a "genocide" for which Canada is responsible.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to help someone. Why do you think Rosie is skeptical about being helped by Aila in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open? Why do you think Rosie tells Aila, "You're not better than me"?
Do you think Rosie is foolish to have a baby even though she has no money to support it? Do you think she is foolish to go back to a boyfriend who is sure to beat her again? Why do you think Rosie might not think either of those actions to be foolish?
Both women are "indigenous," equivalent to Native American in this country. Do you think a history in both Canada and the U.S. of mistreating native peoples may have contributed to the difficult situation Rosie finds herself in? What does the film suggest about the difficulty of rising above poverty?
- In theaters: November 19, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 29, 2019
- Cast: Elle-Maja Tailfeathers, Violet Nelson, Barbara Eve Harris, Charlie Hannah
- Directors: Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Maja Tailfeathers
- Studio: Experimental Forest Films
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: May 21, 2020
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