Thursday, 17 September 2015

MEKKO - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2015 - Urban Rez on the mean streets of Tulsa

Mekko (2015)
Dir. Sterlin Harjo
Starring: Rod Rondeaux, Zahn McClarnon, Wotko Long, Sarah Podemski, Scott Mason

Review By Greg Klymkiw

They're living ghosts on the dirty, mean streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma, looking for a patch of turf to rest their weary bones, quaff cheap booze and await death whilst clinging desperately to life so they can numb the pain.

Far from home, family and dignity, they're Native Americans reduced to poverty at its lowest rung on this makeshift Indian Reservation in the heart of a flat, grey city on the open plains of the dust bowl state. Life is hard, but death without redemption will be harder. One pain will be replaced with yet another, only this time, it will last an eternity if the loose ends aren't tied up.

Not every man will be up to the task, but in the hands of one man, there exists the power of salvation for his community of homeless indigenous people.

For many of us and certainly within the context of both this film and life itself, the blood and violence that eventually explode in answer to a brutal, cowardly assault and murder, will seem like cold, calculating vengeance, but the writer-director Sterlin Harjo knows better. In his third extraordinary feature film, Harjo takes us deep into the life and spirit of one man to expose a truth we must all face and come to know.

His film Mekko bears the name of its protagonist, a quiet lean, gentle giant played by longtime stuntman Rod Rondeaux (a la such immortals as Ben Johnson and Richard Farnsworth); a man who still has enough of a spark left in him to conjure the memories emblazoned upon his soul in childhood by the words of his long-dead grandmother.

In the tradition of Lionel Rogosin's searing docudramas on America's post-war homeless and the early years of South African apartheid in On the Bowery and Come Back, Africa respectively, in addition to the neo-realist visions of Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Shoeshine, Umberto D), Harjo has created a contemporary masterpiece in Mekko, one which indelibly presents a portrait of Native Americans that's as much a harrowing slice-of-life drama as it is a piece rooted in the folklore of our indigenous peoples.

Harjo hangs his raw cinematic engraving upon the simple tale of a man recently released from a 19-year prison stint for murder who winds up homeless on the streets of Tulsa. He reconnects with an old friend from his youth who's also on the streets, is then befriended by a kind-hearted Native American waitress in a local greasy spoon and eventually confronts his nemesis, an odious street goon who keeps his own people hooked on booze and drugs to extort, bully and eke what cash he can out of them.

As in his grandmother's legends, Mekko and his people are always followed by a malevolent witch-spirit who will haunt them to their graves and beyond unless someone bravely takes action to rip the evil heart and soul out of this scourge, this blight upon humanity. It's ultimately all about looking inward to expose one's own demons and eradicate them with extreme prejudice in order to make the world pure again.

Mekko is an extraordinary work, gorgeously crafted, beautifully acted and even utilizing real indigenous street people in the cast. It's sad, shocking, profoundly moving and ultimately uplifting. The journey to elation is, however, fraught with danger and suffering. It's not cheaply and easily earned, but it's a journey you'll never forget, one with the power to fill you with the kind of truth that not only exposes the lives of real people, but the potential to inspire change within yourself.

Yes, this is what they indeed do. Masterpieces, that is.


Mekko enjoys its international premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema section of TIFF 2015. For further info, visit the TIFF website HERE.