Film Review: BEFORE THE STREETS (AVANT LES RUES) (Canada 2016)***1/2

before_the_streets.jpgDirector: Chloé Leriche

Writer: Chloé Leriche

Stars: Rykko Bellemare, Kwena Bellemare-Boivin, Jacques Newashish

Review by Gilbert Seah

Things have not gone right, are still not going right and are going to get worse for a young adult Atikamekw man in the First Nations reserve of Manawan in Quebec. When the film opens, his girlfriend has left him, with him trying to win her back, unsuccessfully. Shawnouk (Rykko Bellemare) smokes up daily, is jobless and leaves a meaningless life with with his sister, mother and mother’s boyfriend, who happens to be an indigenous cop. Things get worse, when he accidentally kills his crime partner after a botched burglary.

When things have gone this badly, it can only get better. But this story of Shawnouk’s redemption shows that redemption does not come easy. It comes with humility, diligence and a self-discovery experience. All these issues make a heated subject for a super indigenous movie And writer/director Chloe Lerich does her subject justice. Lerich also produced, wrote and edited her film besides performing the directing duties.

BEFORE THE STREETS is an original and admirable first feature from director Chlore Leich. It is a moody piece that effectively capture the monotony of life with few opportunities on the reservation. The film also questions the rights deserved of these people – who have essentially got they land stolen from them. Now they have to suck up to the Whites. “Here come the shiflies”, says the indigenous cop, humorously about the Quebec police, at one point in the film.

There is a segment in the film where Shawnouk works in the canine department putting down stray dogs that are sick, or have bitten people. The metaphor is clear. Shawnouk finds it unbearable to work in such an environment.

One problem of the film has is Lerich’s fondness of closeups. As a result, only the closest object can be in focus and others in the frame appear blurred. The result is often many blurred images, especially at the very start of he film. There is also Atikamekw chanting at the start and end of the film – with the Atikamekw character screeching at a very irritating high pitch tone. It is a necessary piece, but hard on the eardrums.
Credit should be given to two excellent performances. The first is the actor Rykko Bellemare who plays the lead like an Atikamekw James Dean. He is able to capture both the audience’s sympathy and admiration for his downs and ups. The second is Jacques Newashish as the mother’s cop boyfriend, who is torn between the right and lawful thing to do.

For a debut feature Lerich’s film is an emotionally satisfying tale of redemption. The only question here is the credibility of the spiritual cleansing depicted. But it works through the personal change of Shwnouk, which is more important and effective than any jail term dished out by a Justice system. As in films like this, the ultimate question asked is: “Can there be any justice on stolen land?”

The film is shot mainly in he Cree language with a bit of French.



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