Thursday, 17 September 2015

FIRE SONG - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2015 - Legacy of Canadian Colonialist Apartheid

Fire Song (2015)
Dir. Adam Garnet Jones
Starring: Andrew Martin,
Jennifer Podemski, Harley LeGarde-Beacham, Mary Galloway

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The legacy of British colonial rule in Canada has resulted in apartheid and virulent racism. Life on many Aboriginal Reservations is fraught with abject poverty, crime, sexual exploitation, incest and worst of all, an increasingly learned epidemic of suicide. None of this has been alleviated in the years of fascist rule in Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and in fact, has only increased due to his government's complete disregard for Aboriginal nations on virtually every level including the theft of land, natural resources and pernicious backstabbing. The aforementioned blights are all explored in Adam Garnet Jones's feature length debut - and then some.

Fire Song is a deeply moving and an indelibly-captured slice-of-life portrait of young and old alike. They all seek a better life; if not on the reservation, then off it.

When his sister commits suicide, a smart, sensitive young gay man (Andrew Martin) is torn between leaving the reservation to get a post-secondary education and staying behind to care for his beloved mother (Jennifer Podemski) who has crawled into a pit of the deepest despair. Complicating matters further, he's kept his sexual orientation a secret between himself and his lover (Harley LeGarde-Beacham) whilst maintaining a "straight" appearance by dating a beautiful young girl (Mary Galloway), whose father keeps coming on to her incestuously.

In many ways, our hero bears the burden of being a protector, but in reality, he'd eventually fulfill that role even more effectively if he left the reserve to study.

Director Jones captures reservation life with such a keen eye, eliciting superb performances from his entire cast, that it's a trifle disappointing that the screenplay feels so rigidly structured, capturing its story beats on its sleeve. The film needed a bit of breathing space and perhaps might have benefitted from writing which was even further rooted in a neo-realist tradition. As well, far too many conflicts and loose ends are addressed and dealt with in a positive fashion during the final third of the picture. They feel rushed and almost shoe-horned into the proceedings.

Given the often overwhelming despair and confusion, both redemption and positive movements forward are indeed very welcome, but they finally seem too forced to be fully effective. There is, however, one aspect of the tale which is handled beautifully on both the writing, directing and acting fronts which addresses the film's initial suicide in an alternately bittersweet and downright heartbreaking manner guaranteed to get the tear ducts flowing freely.

The mostly youthful cast handle themselves naturalistically, but the one knockout performance comes from Jennifer Podemski who demonstrates, yet again, why she's one of Canada's finest actors. She evokes the character's despair and vulnerability without the kind of histrionics the role might have inspired and Podemski very nicely moves into her character's sense of acceptance and love (especially for her gay son) with a reality that's inspiring. The camera loves her and she knows how to use it by keeping her performance delicately muted in a manner which allows for the kind of impact that only great, understated acting is capable of achieving.

The film ultimately elicits sadness and occasionally anger, but in a sense, it's both a positive and enormously important approach to place us in the heart and soul of a place, a way of life which should have been a paradise, but by virtue of being drafted so long ago within a racist context, is a living Hell - one that had (and still has) the potential for healing. Sometimes, though, healing can't only come from within. It needs genuine help from the outside.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-stars

Fire Song received its World Premiere in the Discovery series at TIFF 2015. For further info, visit the TIFF website HERE.