Review: Non Western
by Marta Bałaga
- Laura Plancarte starts with the things that divide us and ends with those that bring people together
In a way, Laura Plancarte’s lovely documentary Non Western [+see also:
film profile] could be seen as yet another addition to the eternal will-they-won’t-they conundrum, as a man of Cheyenne origins and his Caucasian fiancée prepare for a traditional marriage ceremony – the first step towards assuming, among other things, very conservative gender roles. But what makes it so interesting is that Non Western, presented in Visions du Réel’s online International Feature Film Competition, is also nonpartisan and nonconformist when it comes to describing its conflicted protagonists, as well as their motivations – much more complex than they might initially seem.
It’s impressive, mostly because it would be very easy to just immediately reject – amid some furious teeth grinding – all the things that Thaddeus expects of Nanci once they are married, summed up by a rather harsh-sounding “When you come home, you are a mother, you are a wife.” But in this film, there is certainly more to the story, also because both of them have struggled with their identity all their life, adopted by families of different ethnicities already as teenagers: Thaddeus by a white, Christian household and Nanci by the Lakota tribe. “I feel like I sit in between these two worlds,” goes one statement, and suddenly, the decision to respect somewhat outdated traditions seems like an easy way out, like coming home after years of moving from one place to another.
But the Cheyenne ways are strict, that’s for sure, with military veteran Thaddeus admitting to not knowing about “that time of the month” until he left the reservation, lucky man. “There are certain things that we don’t do,” he keeps telling Nanci, an educated woman who doesn’t want to turn her back on her achievements or further confuse her independent-thinking children, who don’t even pretend to get why their mother is “putting herself back down”. And yet the sense of belonging seems to be crucial here, in that small community in Montana, with both prospective spouses frequently looking out of place when surrounded by other people or just plain uncomfortable, gloomily sinking into a chair among all the small talk.
In between all these musings, Plancarte plays around, coming so close sometimes that you can see the unevenly applied mascara on Nanci’s eyelashes. She shows a world that, despite all its longing for tradition, isn’t really homogeneous any more, as mentions of Keeping up with the Kardashians as “the one with that woman who has big lips on her” are followed by memories of a brutal crime and a story about “mama llama, red pyjama” – and that’s just one scene. “I don’t want to lose who I am, because I like who I am,” says Nanci tearfully, and it’s a testament to the skill of the director she let into her life that, by the end, everyone else will probably like her, too, rooting for that eternal will-they-won’t-they conundrum to finally come to a satisfying end.
Non Western is a UK production staged by Laura Plancarte for LP Films, which is also handling sales, and Iván Trujillo, of TV Unam.
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