When a chance encounter on the side of a street brings two young Indigenous women together in a moment of violence, they each are confronted with the different realities they exist in, while living in country that is still coming to terms with it’s violent past towards the First Nations people.
Based on an experience that Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who plays Ália, as well as writing and directing, had several years ago, The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open is a tender yet utterly heart-wrenching depiction of domestic violence, and the difficulties that arise when trying to leave.
Ália (Tailfeathers), returning from a doctor’s appointment, encounters Rosie (Violet Nelson), barefoot and shaking in a heavy downpour while her boyfriend yells at her from across the street. She takes Rosie back to her apartment and an uneasy relationship develops as Ália tries to find her a safe place to stay, the two women navigating the spoken and unspoken differences in their lives.
The film is constructed as five long takes, allowing both actresses a real sense of inhibiting the role – like Tailfeathers, Nelson also experienced some of the issues that her character deals with in the film – making you feel that you are an unintended voyeur to these private and personal moments. The transitions between each scene are seamless, and intentionally so, as the directors filmed on 16mm they were required to have multiple cameras running and ready to take over when they ran out of film.
Both women give excellent performances as two women desperate to unburden themselves, to help other people, but never quite able to make that step, however much they may try. Nelson, as Rosie, continually teeters between spiked edges and heart-breaking vulnerability – cradling her stomach as she listens to Joni Mitchell’s Little Green that Ália has on vinyl, a brief moment of connectivity between the two women.
As much divides them as binds them: Ália’s bright, spacious and lovingly decorated apartment contrasts with the cramp, dim rooms we glimpse of Rosie’s home where she lives with her boyfriend and his mother, but perhaps most importantly to the film, is the pregnancy that Rosie so fiercely protects. The film opens with Ália getting the coil fitted – her boyfriend does want children, she says to Rosie, at some point but she doesn’t now. Although Rosie never comments directly on this, is it clear that this jars with her own experience – her body is not her own.
Always underneath is the spectre that haunts Canada, the experiences of First Nations people and the violence that has occurred at the hands of government agencies throughout the centuries. From residential schools, to the Sixties Scoop – where First Nations children were taken from their home and adopted into white families, to the fact that while Indigenous children only make up 7.7% of the child population, 52.2% of children in foster care are Indigenous – Canada has a very current history of crimes against First Nations people that it is only slowly beginning to address. Rosie’s own experience of the foster system reflects that lack of care and attention that a child is given – “once you turn nineteen they forget about you” – and so she is vulnerable once again.
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is an unshakable drama whose very power is in the words unsaid.
Reference on foster care percentages: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1541187352297/1541187392851