Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Woman Walks Ahead

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Woman Walks Ahead
Directed by Susanna White
Special Screenings

There is often intersectionality between people from vastly different backgrounds who find themselves oppressed. Though there is still a long way to go and certain forces seem more intent on keeping divides rather than breaking them down, a considerable amount has been accomplished in the past century in regards to the rights of both women and the Native American population. This story from the late 1800s finds one woman determined to do as she pleases after a life of appeasing others and set on capturing the essence of a powerful leader not always given the respect he deserves.

Following a year of mourning for her late husband, Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain) decides to take up the love of painting she put aside when she got married and journey to North Dakota to paint esteemed Sioux chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). Upon arrival, Catherine finds considerable hostility to her presence from the local American commander (Ciarin Hinds) and Colonel Silas Groves (Sam Rockwell), sent by the military to assure the passage of a lopsided treaty with the Sioux. Shunned by many white locals who have not gotten over past conflicts with the Sioux, Catherine finds herself surprisingly welcomed by the population and builds a strong relationship with the initially resistant Sitting Bull.

In a stirring speech given to a group of Native Americans sitting before white men seeking to ratify this treaty, Sitting Bull attests that land cannot be bought or taken because it does not belong to men. Regardless of how one feels about the subject, this is a film that respects its landscape, first appearing when Catherine steps off her train from New York with nothing but flatness in sight and serving as the setting for the moments in which Catherine and Sitting Bull find themselves able to get to know one and understand each other’s experiences. This is a film that, for as much as this reviewer, born one hundred years after the events of this film, actually knows this time period was really like, feels like an authentic excerpt spotlighting an unusual friendship.

Chastain has been making many movies lately, and while this is a good role for her, the New York accent she tries to put on distracts considerably. Greyeyes and Chaske Spencer, as Sitting Bull’s nephew who works with the American forces, deliver effective performances, with Rockwell turning in an expectedly rascally follow-up to his Oscar-winning work in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” This is a well-directed movie with a decent script that tells an important story of cooperation which unfortunately does serve as the exception rather than one instance of many.


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