Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn‘s The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open explores difficulties in communication between two Indigenous women with very different viewpoints and life experiences. The film is one of the best acquisition titles at TIFF19.
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open follows, in nearly real time, the efforts of an Indigenous middle-class woman, Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), to help a pregnant young women, Rosie (Violet Nelson), escape domestic abuse. However, while Áila initially comes to Rosie’s aid as an act of solidarity, she quickly learns that a variety of intersectional factors impede the women’s relationship. Despite both being Indigenous women, their interactions show two very different viewpoints and life experiences. Rosie views Áila, who is Blackfoot and Sami, with suspicion, especially hearing the Sami are from Norway. She worries that white-passing Áila is just a “white lady” claiming Indigenous identity. St the same time, Áila’s middle-class perspective comes across as condescending, treating Rosie as if she’s a child who needs a parent and not an equal person in a difficult and traumatic situation.
Co-directed by Vancouver filmmakers Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (who also stars), the film’s real time nature allows us to experience how the mundane ways people interact, such as the questions Áila asks in an attempt to get to know Rosie, help shape the ways in which people come to understand each other. It also hits home how little time the two women have known each other, making Áila’s over-familiarity with Rosie more apparent than it would be under traditional editing. By eschewing grand dramatic moments for these meticulously-observed interactions, the film is a wonderful study in the difficulties of communication.
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is still seeking distribution in the UK .
Update June 25, 2020: The film is streaming worldwide on Netflix and on CBC Gem in Canada.