‘Tana’ (Lily Gladstone) is visiting distant family (including Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, who, with Gladstone, serves as producer and writer). She hangs out with them at a bar as older family members tell stories about their great-grandfather and the kind of friends they had. Later on in the night, She asks about other family members on how far they are. At some points, she tells other people that she’s just ‘floating along’. But some people who say that have a mission that they keep to themselves. The recent loss of her grandmother makes her reach out to the rest of her family. A specific goal in mind for her is to stand in the same place her grandmother stood in the picture she has of her.
Along the way, Tana meets both family and strangers. This is quite the experience for a ‘Native’ woman within the American mosaic. This film challenges its viewers with its pace. Accordingly, the frames in aren’t too unconventional but there are enough twists here to make us see a visual dialect instead of a visual language. In other words, Morrisa Maltz’ The Unknown Country still feels like it’s within the subgenre of American neorealism. Tana is a relatively happy face that occasionally sticks out amongst her family in that bar scene. In one scene, we can see her shame as a cop pulls her over. During another scene, her back is towards the camera.
In that scene, Tana faces the houses that an uncle (Richard Ray Whitman) built to help his community’s housing crisis. Tana and some members of her family then become silhouettes on a sunlit landscape. The dialogue and voiceovers here also do what they normally do in other films, serving as windows to stories of the supporting characters coming from all walks of life. Sure, much of cinema, and film criticism in general is about projection. Despite that, the film shows a great depiction of moving within a space as a person with depression. Gladstone depiction of that earned her a Gotham Award.
Gladstone’s performance in The Unknown Country also keeps in mind who else is occupying the space with her. Some of them are nice cat ladies. Some are men who can’t take no for an answer, and others are just cute yuppies (including Raymond Lee) who lets everyone in their circle. In one way, the film shows just how different it is to live as a ‘Native American’ woman. But in others, it shows that she’s just a regular, socially adept woman in her thirties. This film deconstructs the uniformity within Americana. It shows that First Nations women like Tana can open up to America’s melting pot of citizens if she chooses to do so.
Watch The Unknown Country on MUBI.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Drama
- Directed by: Morrisa Maltz
- Starring: Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Lily Gladstone, Raymond Lee, Richard Ray Whitman
- Produced by: Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Laura Heberton, Vanara Taing
- Written by: Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Lily Gladstone, Morrisa Maltz, Vanara Taing
- Studio: Cold Iron Pictures