Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2016)

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Movie Info

The setting is the often starkly beautiful Badlands of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; most of the key players are young Lakota Native Americans who attend Little Wound High School. Johnny and his preteen sister, Jashaun, spend time on horseback when they're not selling illegal liquor or tattoo-designed apparel. Director Chloé Zhao captures the subtleties of a marginalized existence in which the historic culture of a people can't compete on a level playing field with the modern problems of poverty, alcoholism, and violence. Amazingly, she embroiders her tale with moments of breathtaking natural beauty that offset the despair her characters struggle against. SONGS is an auspicious debut feature from a director whose superb eye is informed by the sophisticated and nuanced compassion she brings to her story. (Synopsis courtesy of Film Forum.)

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Cast

John Reddy
as Johnny Winters
Jashaun St. John
as Jashaun Winters
Irene Bedard
as Lisa Winters
Taysha Fuller
as Aurelia Clifford
Eleonore Hendricks
as Angie Britt
Cat Clifford
as Cat Clifford
Travis Lone Hill
as Travis Lone Hill
Dakota Brown
as Dakota Fire Thunder
Jorge Dullknife
as Jorge Iron Bear
Kevin Hunter
as Kevin Winters
Lauren Janis
as Lauren Janis
Gabby Montileaux
as Gabby Iron Bear
Dorothy Nelson
as Third Customer
Allen Reddy
as Bill Britt
Keanna Rowland
as Keanna Rowland
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Critic Reviews for Songs My Brothers Taught Me

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (8)

A moseying tour of life on the Lakota reservation, circa right now: the empty beauty of the badlands, the ancient struggle with alcohol, and the persistent push of youth to make good and make sense of a bad old world that somehow keeps hope alive.

Apr 7, 2016 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

The slow-paced film includes all the expected social themes - drinking, poverty, broken families. Where Zhao excels is in the range of emotions she gets from a mostly nonprofessional cast.

Mar 3, 2016 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

An earnest, smartly mounted film about life on a present-day reservation.

Mar 2, 2016 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

Viewers will be torn between admiring its laid-back naturalism and wishing it possessed just a little more oomph.

Mar 2, 2016 | Rating: B- | Full Review…
AV Club
Top Critic

Because her laissez-faire approach makes little effort to fit the fragmentary scenes into a tidy portrait of reservation life, "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" feels more authentic than if she had chosen to impose a tighter structure.

Mar 1, 2016 | Full Review…

The performances are undeniably authentic, the cinematography could make Terrence Malick stand to give a slow clap, and sometimes a sensitive mood and evocative milieu are enough to sustain when there's barely a plot.

Mar 1, 2016 | Full Review…

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