The story revolves around Rosie (Violet Nelson) and Aila (Tailfeathers), two women living in Vancouver. Aila, who has just gotten her first IUD and is a little bit nonplussed by the brusqueness of the procedure, encounters the pregnant Rosie on the street. Rosie is shaken and upset, and Aila quickly realizes that Rosie has fled an abusive partner. So she takes Rosie home, hoping to help her — and her unborn baby — find safety.
But it turns out that helping Rosie isn’t as straightforward as giving her clean clothes and calling around to find a spot for her in a shelter. She’s a complex person with a complicated life, and she isn’t necessarily looking for a savior. She finds Aila’s sympathy and attentions appealing, but she doesn’t want to be seen or treated as a victim. She’s simultaneously defiant and scared, vulnerable and full of bravado. Aila, meanwhile, very much wants to do the right thing — but what does that really entail?
Like life, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open doesn’t offer easy answers. Sometimes people make choices that others can’t understand. Sometimes the known is easier than the unknown. But in telling Aila and Rosie’s story, the film offers a raw, honest look at the realities of domestic abuse and the power of reaching out to help someone in need. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale The uncomfortable silences, the big judgements and little mercies, those are just a few elements that bring cohesion and a rare authenticity to Canadian indie drama The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Co-writer/directors Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn examine one small corner in the experience of domestic abuse through the encounter of two First Nations women with vastly different economic situations, and they do it nearly in real time, and almost entirely in one unbroken shot. Issues like bodily autonomy, the politics of abortion and the financial burden of motherhood for women with limited means, as well as racism as it is meted out to those who read more or less as “other” are considered and with sensitivity and insight. There is both a calmness and a bone-deep rage that permeate interactions between the two lead characters Rosie (Violet Nelson) and Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), but their relationship, as it develops, is nuanced, complicated, and often deeply moving. The film speaks to the need for compassion for its own sake, not for how it is received, which is an essential lesson for these bizarre, challenging times.
Pam Grady: A boyfriend’s latest violent onslaught sends pregnant Rosie (Violet Nelson) fleeing into the streets of Vancouver, shoeless, where she meets Aila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) in Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn’s fraught, intimate feature. The drama is framed largely as a tracking shot that intensifies ever increasing tension and a profound feeling of discomfiture between the two women who are both indigenous, but otherwise have nothing in common. In particular, while shining a light on the challenges involved in confronting domestic abuse, the film also focuses on the conflict that arises out of the women’s differences. Class plays a big role – struggling Rosie is suspicious of this middle-class woman’s meddling in her life and sees her offer to help as condescension. Aila genuinely wants to aid this stranger and her unborn baby and get them out of a terrible situation, but her well-intentioned concern only stokes Rosie’s resentment. Like Aila, the viewer can only watch as Rosie struggles with a choice between a leap into a future she is unable to fathom or a return to the peril of the life she knows in a drama that is as unsettling as it is compelling.
MaryAnn Johanson This is an extraordinary film, a heartbreaking portrait of a frustrating situation that all too many women find themselves in — on both sides of the dynamic here — yet which we rarely see depicted onscreen. The fact that the movie is almost one long (seemingly?) uncut take unraveling in real time means we get no respite from the ordinary nightmare as it unfolds before us: we are made complicit partners in events. We are like Aila, unable to look away, desperate to help, yet fundamentally helpless in the face of the impossible situation that Rosie is in. There can be no happy ending here, and, indeed, there is not.
Jennifer Merin Set in Vancouver, this feminist drama follows two women whose ethnic roots and social backgrounds have placed them outside the mainstream. They meet by chance when Aila witnesses Rosie being beaten by a man, and rescues her. During the one day they spend together, Aila tries to help pregnant and abused Rosie to get help in a woman’s shelter. We see that the women’s lives have parallel beginnings but divergent futures. The film’s hand held homemade look and slow-paced story development perfectly fit its theme and story. You can feel these women;s pulses. Created by co-writer/directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (who also plays Aila), the film offers a feminist perspective on female characters rarely seen on the big screen.
Loren King This deliberately paced, remarkable first feature from Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers who co-directed and co-wrote the film with Kathleen Hepburn, centers on two indigenous young women, Áila (played by Tailfeathers) and Rosie (Violet Nelson) who meet by chance on the street and, by the end of their journey, may likely never meet again. But their story is raw and real and, if one sticks with it, rewarding. Read full review,
Sheila Roberts Filmmakers Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers’s Canadian indie, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, is part of Ava DuVernay’s impressive ARRAY initiative, a grassroots distribution, arts and advocacy collective focused on independent films by people of color and women filmmakers globally. The unpretentious film set in Vancouver examines how class and racism impact two young indigenous women from vastly different social and ethnic backgrounds. Read full review.
Marina Antunes A chance encounter between two strangers becomes a complicated, emotional drama of two women dealing with pregnancy, relationships, and their cultural in very different ways. Captured in real-time, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open ebbs and flows through a nearly two hour ordeal that feels authentic and unscripted. Beautifully performed by Violet Nelson and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers.
< strong>Liz Whittemore: This is an extraordinary film, a heartbreaking portrait of a frustrating situation that all too many women find themselves in — on both sides of the dynamic here — yet which we rarely see depicted onscreen. The fact that the movie is almost one long (seemingly?) uncut take unraveling in real time means we get no respite from the ordinary nightmare as it unfolds before us: we are made complicit partners in events. We are like Aila, unable to look away, desperate to help, yet fundamentally helpless in the face of the impossible situation that Rosie is in. There can be no happy ending here, and, indeed, there is not. circle, both biological or otherwise. As an actor, it reminded me of how impactful the experience of silence is. This film’s power comes in many forms. It is honest and it is intimate. I’m delighted to see a story of two women not often represented on the big screen. The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open is an important film that you must seek out.
Cate Marquis In a cinema verite style drama with a contemplative pace, co-writer/directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers focus on a chance encounter between two part-Indigenous women in Vancouver, in the Canadian indie drama
Title: The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
Directors: Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers
Release Date: November 29, 2019
Running Time: 105 minutes
Screenwriters: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn
Distribution Company: Experimental Forest Films, Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin