Directors Riley Keough and Gina Gammell made their Cannes debut with the May 21 premiere of “War Pony,” an immersive feature film about the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota that’s notable for its subtlety rooted in the midst of the festival’s grandiose melodrama. line up. Produced in collaboration with Lakota Franklin co-writers Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy and Indigenous producer Willi White, the film was inspired by Sioux Bob and Reddy’s experiences on the reservation. It follows two young men who struggle to get by amid the pressures of poverty, family turmoil and unsympathetic authority figures. The touching drama is a triumph of community cinema that highlights the perspectives of Indigenous creatives, delivering a fluid coming-of-age story that resists the narrative urge to insert contrived endings or draw conclusions from realities. nuances of its environment.
Bill (Jojo Bapteist Whiting), a 23-year-old father of two, lives in difficult limbo, earning sporadic income from odd jobs as he stays with his mother and tries to convince his unimpressed ex Echo (Jesse Schmockel) to take he came home. His life is shaped by the ties that bind him to his community, from his responsibility for his two young children and their mothers to the lucrative projects he dreams up with his friends and his often adversarial relationship with his own mother. Conversely, the film’s other lead, Matho (LaDainian Crazy Thunder), is burdened with isolation, forced from childhood to navigate a harsh world without a cohesive support network. After a fight with his father and a sudden tragedy leaves Matho on the streets, he must find a way to take care of himself. As his opportunities for stability dwindle, he takes increasingly dangerous risks in an effort to maintain the brash, thrill-seeking identity he has built among his friends. Rather than presenting a simple plot with a straightforward beginning, middle, and end, “War Pony” unfolds as an atmospheric and painful portrait of Bill and Matho’s lives, charting their joys and sorrows with an observational style. respondent.
The film’s naturalistic study of its well-drawn, charismatic characters creates an engrossing pace and touching stakes even as the film transcends the structure of a plot-driven feature film. That’s not to say “War Pony” doesn’t have emotional highs and lows: it injects urgency, humor and heart with imaginative storylines, including Bill’s plan to earn money. money raising poodles, his unlikely job as an assistant on a squalid white ranch. owner, and Matho’s experience living with a relative who takes in orphaned children and makes a living for them by helping him pack medicine. In each of these moments, all the characters appear as three-dimensional people charged with complex obligations and desires, a testament to the empathetic care of cinema.
Throughout its runtime, the film imaginatively portrays its characters’ constant challenges not as a cheap ploy to heighten suspense or reduce their lives to dark vignettes, but rather to create an environment of continuous pressure amid victories and pitfalls. The continued depiction of triumph and adversity in “War Pony” shows how the forces of love, legacy and necessity shape the lives of its protagonists. Like Sioux Bob Told Deadline, “I just wanted everything that I experienced in daily life, living on the reservation, to be portrayed through the film…in a lot of native films, it’s either poverty porn or it’s is a subject.”
The film’s moving and authentic tone reflects its unusual origin story; the idea for the film was born seven years ago, after Keough struck up a friendship with first-time actors Sioux Bob and Reddy on the set of Andrea Arnold’s equally mesmerizing 2016 film “American Honey” while filming in Pine Ridge. Keough introduced Reddy to her best friend Gammell and they hit it off, leading to the pair visiting Reddy and Sioux Bob in Pine Ridge over the next few years and experimenting with a series of collaborative music videos and shorts. Keough and Gammell spent a few years getting to know the Pine Ridge community without a feature film project, but the death of Reddy’s pit bull Beast inspired the four friends to start making a movie in tribute to the dog. The loss sparked a writing process that saw Sioux Bob and Reddy weave stories of their own lives and those of their friends into a portrait of two young men and a window into their life on the reservation.
New cast members Whiting and Crazy Thunder deliver moving and heartbreaking performances as charming and incoherent Bill and overworked and resourceful Matho. The realism of their acting is enhanced by an excellent supporting cast and gripping storyline, which sets itself apart from other coming-of-age films at the festival with sharp dialogue, a slow build, and a moving final act that ties its storylines together. divergent without imposing a reductive conclusion.
Ultimately, “War Pony” is a gripping, evocative, and beautiful story of youth and survival on the Pine Ridge Reservation. More broadly, it speaks to the urgency of making space and funding for Indigenous filmmakers and creators to tell their own stories. The film won the Golden Camerathe prize awarded by the jury to the best first film of all the categories of the Cannes selection, but the festival and the wider film community still have a long way to go to support Indigenous peoples filmmakers and recognize their work.