"Rebel," sings soon-to-be-ex-singer Mary Birchbark (Tantoo Cardinal), who, set finished, rushes off-stage, out the door, and back to her First Nations reservation in Canada to re-establish a home without looking back. Her manager tries to convince her to perform an encore, but she's long gone. Rebelled. The effects of this rebellion and the ensuing struggle to find her new identity—or reclaim a stolen one—are the things that fall around her in Darlene Naponse's Falls Around Her.

Cardinal's performance in reaction to the exploitation her character suffers at the hands of the music industry is at once steadfast and expressive. The camera continually returns to close-up views of her face as it portrays her emotional being in an old world new again to her; contentedness at a walk in the woods or concern at the prospect of mining operations on her land are all cast against a snowy backdrop of frozen Northern lakes that, over the course of the movie, begin to thaw and turn green with spring.

While the camera work and acting contribute to a cohesive whole, parts of the plot, for example, the scenes with the mining company or those with Birchbark's lover, contribute little to the overall story arc and approach pastiche in the way they present a trope with little previous development or subsequent take-away.

However, the substance of the environmental (and, in the final scene, domestic) crimes portrayed in the movie are as psychological specters for Birchbark, which contribute to the overall unraveling she experiences throughout the film as she comes to adjust to—and enforce—her post-performing life. It's no wonder Cardinal is being awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival; throughout the film, her resolute face offers mere glimpses of the hidden strengths and fears that are fully revealed and resolved in the climax, and it is that face, that pure acting, which kept us watching, despite the occasional gaps in plot.

7
+Cardinal's performance; the rich psychological exploration; beautiful nature scenes
-Confusing plot points and unclear relationships

Falls Around Her
Directed by Naponse
With Cardinal
Santa Fe Independent Film Festival's
Indigenous Film Program
Lensic Performing Arts Center,
NR, 100 min.