Film Review: “Smoke Signals” by Chris Eyre (1998, Canada)

To those who deem the world of watching movies as a job full of fun and merry, keep in mind that it is an imposition as well. You are compelled to sit through plentiful of bad movies, and forced to slowly lose hope and faith in the motion picture industry until it is almost gone. The cynicism one harbors consumes you from the inside until you have nothing left but your own cruel intents towards an industry that you have no allure for. Then as hope has faded to a virtually non-existent point, you sit back and watch a movie like Smoke Signals and hope is restored. It is a quaint buddy story, with an enthralling intimacy, an emphasis on food, drinks and the longing for family bonds. It is a film that celebrates the appreciation of being Indian. It explores the nature of native American Indians stereotypes in popular cinema by both critically thought-provoking them and at the same time humorously poking fun at them.

The film opens in Idaho on the fourth of July 1976,a day momentousnot only tothe American people, but also for infant Thomas Builds-The-Fire, who is rescued by being hurled through a window when his house is burning down at 3 a.m. He is held by the arms of Arnold Joseph, a neighbor struggling with alcoholism, and who is ultimately thrown out by his wife and relocates to Phoenix, leaving behind his son Victor Joseph.20 years later, word goes round that Arnold has died. Victor holds deep bitterness against his father, although he thinks the best decision is to travel to Phoenix to bring his father’s ashes. He is short of money to buy tickets for the journey, but Thomas Builds-The-Fire volunteers to pay for his ticket on condition that victor takes him along on the journey.This would be a big compromise for Victor, who is tall and reserved and has never relished the thin and chatty Thomas. But then he has no choice. And whilst the movie sinks into the rhythmsand cadences of a road embodiment, the two characters converse, and the conversation between them forms the heart of the movie.

There is a lot to love about Smoke Signals, taking into account the verity that it’s themes are universal, even though the Indian reservation brought an aspect of color into the story telling.That feeling that the movie is personal is universal with Smoke Signal, this implies different things to different people, but is always a powerful and intimate story to everyone.  It is so deeply personal that it becomes difficult to get into why it is such a perfect movie without to drift into one’s own past, something which majority of people do only when in the company of the people they hold dear.

Smoke signal has a brutal honesty and harshness about it that I did not expect. From everything I had heard about the movie, and even basing by the box cover, the movie did not look or seem like a thought-provoking drama that was intent on shedding light on the life of an Indian reservation, warts and all. But that is what the film achieves, and as a result, Native Americans are depicted as dependent to the bottle as they are to the resentment at their lot in life, not leaving out their paranoid derision for the white people beyond the reservation precincts. No other filmmaker would have risked making a movie like this.

Even though the movie delivers undaunted frankness about modern day NativeAmericans, it doesn’t mean the film is devoid of humor. It has a fair share of sometimes very funny, although not in the manner that makes one laugh out loud. Most of the humor is delivered by the Thomas character, who has the peculiar knack to be insensible to the pain of his friend Victor, or else he would not have kept bringing up Arnolds unexpected desertion of his family as if he was discussing weather.

One thing that can be said without getting too personal is that, whatever walls you may have built round your life, the film carries with it the raw power to break them with a thought.Smoke Signal is undoubtedly a film that any movie fanatic will enjoy. Rarely does a movie touch someone so much as Smoke Signalscan manage to, nor does it make you cry or smile like this immense emotional film can do.

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