An evocative look at life on one of Canada’s First Nations reserves, Before the Streets is the brainchild of debut feature director Chloé Leriche.
A brave undertaking that tells a story almost never examined on film, it utilizes a cast of Atikamekw nonactors, making it all the more vivid. Shawnouk (Rykko Bellemare), a young man living on Quebec’s Manawan Reserve, leads an aimless life rife with familial tension, alongside his sister, Kwena (Kwena Bellemare-Boivin, Bellemare’s real-life sister), their mother, and their mother’s boyfriend, a police officer on the reserve. When Shawnouk is caught up in a robbery and accidentally shoots and kills his accomplice in a struggle, he disappears into the woods, a hyperventilating mess awash in guilt. Seeking redemption, he fearfully turns to smudging, sweat lodges, and the medicines of his culture in an attempt to absolve himself of his transgression. The first feature filmed in the Atikamekw dialect of Algonquian Cree, Before the Streets is a study of a life entrenched in violence, and asks whether one can truly be redeemed by cultural practices. Intelligent cinematography and flawless sound editing put the viewer smack in the middle of Shawnouk’s world, making the plodding pace of the story tolerable, at the very least. Not everyone will appreciate the director’s approach to casting, but if her goal was to convey truth through a fictional narrative, it was certainly the key to doing so.
Village 8 Cinemas Theatre 7, December 3 (8:30 p.m.); Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre, December 4 (12:30 p.m.)