Review: The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Violet Nelson in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is as unique and unusual as the title hints it is. The subject matter, the writing style, the camera work – everything about this film breaks the mold. The Canadian indie is set in an unnamed city. There are spoilers ahead.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open spends an afternoon with two women.

Aila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) comes out of her doctors office. She just had an IUD implanted. She sees Rosie (Violet Nelson) standing barefooted in the rain, her face battered. She’s pregnant. Across the street a man yells curses at her.

Many people are in the street, but only Aila recognizes the situation and wants to help. She takes Rosie by the hand and leads her away. She takes Rosie into her apartment.

Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Violet Nelson in The Body Remembers When the World Breaks Open

Both are First Nations women. Nineteen year old Rosie thinks the older Aila looks white. Aila has a nice apartment, nice clothes, she looks professional. Rosie is vulgar and defensive. Aila wants to help her anyway.

Aila gives Rosie dry clothes, a pair of rain boots. Rosie steals her prescriptions and her wallet as Aila finds clothes and makes tea.

Aila suggests that Rosie seek a safe place to spend the night – a shelter. They have an awkward conversation. Rosie is reluctant to talk. Aila is gently determined to find Rosie a safe haven.

The camera follows one or the other of them in whatever they do. It feels as if the movie is one long take, a single uninterrupted performance. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the camera work is “long, unbroken takes woven together.” It feels seamless and alive as the camera stays on them moving around and trying to figure each other out.

They talk about Rosie’s baby. Rosie listens to Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green” on Aila’s stereo, a song about giving up a baby for adoption. Rosie puts the headphones on her stomach for the baby to hear. She sings a native song to her baby in other scenes.

Aila calls shelters. She just happens to know these numbers, but we don’t know why. She finds a spot. Rosie agrees to go with her to check out one.

The cab ride to the shelter is the most dynamic scene in the film, as Rosie spins a tale for the cab driver that makes her seem like the successful, together one and Aila the pitiful, needy one.

Cat (Charlie Hannah) and Sophie (Barbara Eve Harris) greet Rosie at the shelter. They are kind and understanding, but not pushy. Rosie eventually makes the same decision many abused women make numerous times before they break free.

This is the story of two women. Women will recognize them both, understand them both – the older, wiser helper and the younger, more vulnerable one. Their interaction is fraught, filled with long pauses, exploratory. It’s as close to real as a film can be. The emotional impact is real, as well.

At the end of the brief encounter between Aila and Rosie, we’re left more with the idea of change than with actual change.

In addition to starring in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers wrote and directed the film with Kathleen Hepburn. The film made its way to Netflix thanks to Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY.

Poster for The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

Take a look at the trailer.

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