Friday, August 12, 2011

Smoke Signals (1998)

Victor, a young troubled Coeur D'Alene Native American, travels off the reservation on a personal quest for some kind of truth about his estranged dad.  Tagging along is his cousin, Thomas, a chatty, bespectacled Indian storyteller.

Ultimately this is a story about love, regret, and redemption.   All wrapped up in a tongue-in-cheek, yet reverent  look at modern Native American life on a reservation.  Victor is  bitter and angry--annoyed to no end at Thomas’ chatting and storytelling, his nerdy look and medicine-man-wannabe persona;  yet something in Thomas is pure and wise, containing ancient wisdom.

One of the beautiful things about this film is the ability to focus on something that would initially seem trivial, especially when larger issues are at stake.  Of course this would be frybread.  Frybread is a simple dough of flour and yeast, fried in oil, and is a Native American staple.  Victors mother, Arlene,  is proud of her frybread.  Thomas tells grandiose, epic stories about Arlene’s frybread.  Suddenly it’s not so trivial anymore.

Evan Adams, who plays Thomas, gives one of those performance that might seem caricatured and over the top (you will be mimicking him after the movie, I promise you), yet is formidable and captures the truth at the same time.  Hard to do, and he nailed it.

This is a sweet and lovely film that is haunted with ghosts of the past and the future.  As a father, the ending got me pretty good.   Not one to be missed .

PS, after watching this again, I actually tried making frybread, and it was AWESOME.

Quickie Synopsis