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SIFF ADVANCE: Rhyms for Young Ghouls - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF ADVANCE: Rhyms for Young Ghouls
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Films about Native Americans with any real sense of authenticity -- let alone any made by Native people -- are so rare, that alone makes Rhymes for Young Ghouls worth a look. Add to that a director who grew up on the Listuguj Mi'gMaq First Nation reserve in Quebec, here offering a film about Canadian First Nation people in the seventies, and you've got a story that is unique indeed.

Aila (a fantastic Devery Jacobs) suffers a horrible tragedy at the beginning of the film: a fatal mistake made by her mother causes her mother to commit suicide, the same day her father is dragged off to jail. It then jumps forward seven years, from 1969 to 1976, and Aili tells us in voice-over: "The day my mother died, I aged a thousand years." One might presume that to be the case for just about anyone.

Aila has been raised, sort of, in the meantime by her uncle, Burner (Brandon Oakes). Aila is fiercely independent, however, and evidently has the most talent in assembling the drugs they sell, having taken over from her father (Glen Gould). Aila is one tough teenager, taking it as apart of life that the local authorities will not discriminate when it comes to beating the shit out of her people, as well as Aila herself, at the slightest provocation.

There is a lot of this in the film, First Nation people getting beat up for little to no reason. In one scene, Aila gets punched in the face as a matter of course while another teenager from her reservation happens to be running away from someone past her. The chaser tells Aila to relay "a message" and kicks her in the face after she's already been knocked off her bike. Aila takes all of this with the requisite stoicism.

The First Nation people are presented here with adequate dimension; their white, Canadian tormenters are not. In this movie, anyone not from the reserve is overtly villainized. If there is any major flaw to Rhymes for Young Ghouls, this is it; the few scenes set in the Catholic school where many of the young Native children are forced to attend clearly reveal that the filmmaker knows little about nuns and priests and the like.

That said, this movie is at its core a revenge fantasy, and even decades after the 1970s, who can blame them? The things we see the Catholics doing to the people they call "heathens" really did happen, which makes it pretty difficult not to villainize them. Arguing about what good it does now to engage in such fantasies is beside the point. The only real question is, does it make for a good movie?

Yes, it does. Eventually, Aila herself is detained and forced to attend the school, if only briefly. We get the requisite shot of her braids getting cut off, by rough nuns. Her friends and family help her with a plot to steal back money the worst of their tormenters, Popper (Mark Antony Krupa) suckered out of them through his corruption, and the disgusting cleverness of the scheme is particularly satisfying. He happens also to work in the school, so that's convenient.

The perspectives presented here are unusually illuminating, a small glimpse outside of American ethnocentrism, where white guilt about the genocide of Native Americans is confined to our own history. But the United States is not the only country guilty of such horrors, which extend as far as the Aborigines of Australia and come as close as our neighbors to the north -- who are historically characterized as so much "nicer" than Americans. Not in this movie.

When Rhymes for Young Ghouls comes to its graphic end, it's easy to have some mixed feelings about it. But that's not necessarily what it's going for. Writer-director Jeff Barnaby may be presenting a revenge fantasy filled with, and fueled by, infuriating depictions that are unfortunately historically accurate -- but he presents it with an authentic voice. He does this pointedly without concern for stereotypes, thereby depicting some and avoiding others. The world could do with more movies from the likes of him.

Devery Jacobs growns up in unfortunate ways in RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS.

Overall: B+
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