Thursday, June 25, 2020
Nate Hood's Quartantine Qapsule #80Songs My Brothers Taught Me  ★★★★
Unlike John, Jashaun doesn’t see dead-end desperation in their reservation. The poverty, perhaps. But when she looks upon the land she sees tides of flame upon the prairie, leaving blankets of ash smoking silently under the stars. She sees cowboys breaking horses but leaving enough of their wild souls intact that they don’t lose their spirit. She sees powwow dresses, plates of fry bread, tattoos, and sacred numbers. She is the bank of hope John crashes against day by day. And for that reason he knows he’ll eventually have to leave her, too.
So it goes in Chloé Zhao’s feature debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), an achingly poignant portrait of contemporary reservation life. Shot on location and with nonprofessional actors, the film adopts an almost cinéma vérité style. Unlike her widely acclaimed follow-up The Rider (2017), Zhao embraces a sentimentality that could’ve come across as hollow and mushy if not for the film’s ever-present undercurrent of melancholy sadness. Much of this is due to Peter Golub and Tom MacLear’s spare, understated soundtrack which manages a remarkable amount of emotional heavy-lifting with just a piano and some strings. But whatever the reasons, the film is an astonishing debut for one of American cinema’s most promising new voices.