Beans (2020)

TRACEY DEER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

, 2020. . Screenplay by Tracey Deer, . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by , . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Her name is Tekehentahkhwa but she is affectionately known by the nickname of “Beans”, she’s thirteen years old and is excited about the prospect of getting into a prestigious, historic Montreal academy. Her home life in her residential Kahnawake reservation is upended in the summer of 1990 when what begins as a grassroots protest by indigenous residents, reacting to the Quebec government wanting to turn Mohawk land (which includes a cemetery) into a golf course, blows up into the Oka Crisis of that summer.

Just as Beans hits the age of trying to figure herself out, she witnesses months of terrifying violence and uncensored racial hatred coming her way from the neighbouring French whites, with director Tracey Deer using both her dramatically-recreated childhood memories of people throwing rocks at her mother’s car as well as a wealth of very powerful file footage from the time to really place us in the moment as it occurs. The protests involve blockading bridges, which makes moving around difficult for Beans’ family, while local businesses close up shops and refuse to sell food to any of their usual customers, stating their fear of looting and violence.

Beans reacts almost instinctively to this pressure by making friends with April, the toughest girl in the neighbourhood, who teaches her to swear and gives her brutal physical lessons on how not to mind pain. By the time Beans’ father sends her, her pregnant mother and little sister to a motel for safekeeping to avoid their coming to harm, she is in danger of totally losing her way, experimenting with sex and booze and saying that she wants to hurt the white man as hard as she is hurting, and that she doesn’t care about going to the oppressor’s school anymore.

Deer does an effective job of putting on screen the long, ugly history of Canadian settler relations with indigenous citizens, giving it powerful poignancy by funnelling it through the perspective of a child who is pulled at all angles by the struggle to determine who she is as an individual, as part of a family and as a member of a community. Fourteen year-old manages all these duties with ease and gives a sincere performance, though in general the acting is stiff and amateurish in this film and it isn’t helped by the fact that the dialogue, for the most part, is poorly written. The younger actors can get by on charm but the adults really suffer for the moments when the script overdoes its on-the-nose melodrama. Too much of this movie feels staged for it to be the wholly transcendant experience it deserves to be, but for the very important historical ground it covers and for the moments that work, it is well worth seeing.

Toronto International Film Festival: 2020

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