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film review
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Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) consoles a young woman (Violet Nelson) she finds barefoot and sobbing in the streets.Experimental Forest Films

  • The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
  • Written and directed by Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn
  • Starring Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Violet Nelson
  • Classification 14A; 105 minutes


4 out of 4 stars

There is an immediately beautiful moment in Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn’s new film, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, where the lead character Rosie (Violet Nelson) sits at rest, in a state of a sort of anxious calm, listening to Joni Mitchell’s Little Green. She is in the home of Aila (Tailfeathers), a woman who had encountered Rosie barefoot in the rain, standing still, pregnant and bruised, just across the street from the shouts and violence of her abusive partner in East Vancouver. Aila makes phone calls to find safe shelter and support for Rosie, who looks around Aila’s apartment, stopping in front of her record player to put on an album: Blue. She remarks with a smile that the record was a favourite of her grandmother’s, and raises the headphones to her ears to listen. We hear the faint sounds of Aila making more calls in the background, and then finally joining Rosie, who has lowered the headphones to her pregnant belly.

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Áila is Sami and Blackfoot.Experimental Forest Films

This scene seems to stand still in time, or perhaps take place outside the boundaries of it, transforming experience into something that is irrevocably lived on multiple planes. It’s a striking suspension of moment (especially given that the film is shot in nearly real time), and a scene that fully lives within its title, borrowed from an essay by poet, scholar, and author from Driftpile Cree Nation, Billy-Ray Belcourt. What has been crafted with The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open is the multitudinous reality of past and present, absent and material; a world-affirming space of narrative realization that speaks to those who exist within the efforts and “now” of survival.

Within this expanse we are to acknowledge differences of privilege; the ways in which this element informs reproductive health and social support; the ways in which violence and trauma maps itself onto bodies, particularly the bodies of Indigenous women, with both a clear agenda but also a discerning eye; the ways in which autonomy and care-giving are offered, denied, and navigated. These elements form an effective constellation around its characters, Aila, who is Sami and Blackfoot/Kainai First Nation (Blood Reserve), and Rosie, who is from Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, and the core of the film meditates on both the clear connectivity and differences between the two women.

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Rosie is from Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation.Experimental Forest Films

In his titular essay, Belcourt writes, “I am trying to figure out how to be in this world without wanting it, and perhaps this is what it is to be Indigenous. To be Indigenous is also to be hurt on the way out, if the ‘way out’ is crowded by the past’s razor sharp edges.” What Tailfeathers and Hepburn have shared with The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open is a practice of filmmaking that grapples with these exact intricacies of embodiment and acknowledges them as wholly inextricable from Indigenous presents and futures.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open opens Nov. 1 in Vancouver, and Dec. 13 in Toronto

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