By Monica Delgado
After a few days in this 75th edition of the Cannes Festival, it has been difficult to find a well-rounded film (such as Scarlet by Pietro Marcello, seen in the Directors’ Fortnight, which we will write about soon). Although War Pony, the first feature film by actress Riley Keough and producer Gina Gammell and presented in the official section Un Certain Regard, is not a successful film, it contains a look that is followed with considerable interest, around a couple of characters in work and family crisis; a teenager and a young man who live in Pine Ridge, a territory of South Dakota. Both characters, who do not know each other, make up the two narrative lines that the directors choose to show the portrait of a community, perhaps marked by commonplaces, such as drug trafficking, poverty and social exclusion. Although, the ‘coming of age’ touch and some decisions in the editing and staging mean that the result is not negligible.
In War Pony, the Native American communities don’t have it easy. What’s more, here we are immersed in a world that seems to be halfway between the universes proposed by Sean Baker and Roberto Minervini in some of their works: characters in gangs and impoverished who have no other opportunities than to dedicate themselves to theft, to the sale of drugs or simply living with some enthusiasm -or alienation- from day to day. Everything looks pessimistic, however, the directors manage to compose a story from an uncertain future, but marked by the typical liberating details and resistance of the native worldview (there is even a metaphor at the beginning of the film as a poetic concretion and mythical).
Bill (Jojo Bapteise) is a young man who, despite his 23 years, already has two small children with two different women. He is unemployed and kills time with his friends. On the other hand, there is Matho, a pubescent motherless, who lives with his father, also a young drug dealer, and who also spends his hours between school and a group of friends his own age. Despite the hostile situations, both characters tend to overcome the lack of family support or work: Bill is informally hired by a white landowner, played by Sprauge Hollander, while Matho (Ladainian) finds a bag of methamphetamine from his father, with which he starts a small business. These two situations trigger the major problems of the characters. Beyond the story and despite the external gaze of the filmmakers, who obviously do not belong to this social and cultural sphere, the gaze on the characters is merciful (although some clichés cannot be avoided).
Riley Keough (who has worked as an actress in productions such as The Devil All The Time, The House that Jack Built, Mad Max: Fury Road or It Comes at Night) and Gina Gammell propose for their first film, this entry into the native world from non-actors with contributions from this community of the Lakota nation, both in the script and the production process. Aspects that could balance this game of representations about a community made invisible in cinema, and that despite some commonplaces, manages to materialize an adolescent and youthful sensibility, to the rhythm of trap and hip hop, and with some touches of melancholy, from the gestures and actions of its two male leads.
Although the film is a social drama that maintains a fairly good pace in its first hour, the political component that is added at the end, in reference to the fight against whites and their power, predictable and forced, manages to weaken the final result. However, in any case, despite its errors, it is a striking film within the competition of the Un certain regard section.
Directors: Riley Keough and Gina Gammell
Screenplay: Riley Keough, Gina Gammell, Bill Reddy, Franklin Sioux Bob
Photography: David Gallego
Editing: Eduardo Serrano, Ernie Gilbert
Music: Mato Wayuhi, Christopher Stracey
Cast: Jojo Bapteise, Ladainian, Jesse Schmockel, Wilma Colhoff, Iona Red Bear, Woodrow Lone Elk, Ta-Yamni Long Black Cat, Jeremy Corbin Cottier, Steven Yellow Hawk, Manuel Garcia, Xavier Big Crow, Anjeliq Aurora, Jessica Poor Bear.
USA, 2022, 115 min.