As the Denetclaw family stands at the border of the Prairie Wolf reservation waiting to accept the body of their youngest son from US Air Force personnel, the harsh reality of Native Americans in the United States becomes blatantly and painfully apparent. Latent hostility seeps out as the American flag is unceremoniously left in the dust and a different flag of a different nation is placed over the coffin of their fallen. Babak Jalali’s Land paints an all but too clear picture of the stagnant and uninspiring condition of a marginalised people, exposing the harsh and little talked about reality for all to see.
The slow pace of the film is at first off-putting; mundane moments of life on the reservation reveal the crippling grip of alcoholism on the community and a general lack of opportunity to do much else but drink and pass the day. The more we learn about life on the reservation, the more depressing the situation becomes and the more the slow pace begins to fit with the narrative. Life here is stagnant, stale, tired, hopeless. When the Denetclaws are not awarded the full amount customarily paid to beneficiaries of a soldier killed in combat, a disturbing revelation about the relationship between Native Americans and the United States comes to light.
Jalali steadily and carefully lays out instances and builds a case that ultimately reveals a mechanism of systematic oppression designed to keep the Native population as second-class citizens. Day after day, Mary Denetclaw (Wilma Pelly) drops her son Wesley (James Coleman) off at the liquor store on the border of the reservation and waits for him to drink himself to sleep. The white owner of the store (Florence Klein) makes her living selling beer to the alcoholics and supplying the bootlegger who brings liquor into the reservation where it’s forbidden. From every direction people feed into the cycle of oppression, with no tangible hope for change.
Land is an incredibly bleak but more or less accurate representation of the shameful reality of Native Americans in the US. By the end of the film we’re left with no uplifting message, no indication of progress; the cycle continues and their story fades into the background yet again. Although a bit tiring to stay immersed in, Land nevertheless is a brutally honest picture of a perpetual injustice.
Land does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Land here: