The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Their one day


Canadian film “The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open” presents a series of continuous moments between two different female characters who happen to encounter each other on one day. As austerely but sensitively focusing on strained and tentative interactions between them along the story, the movie lets us get to know a bit about them, and we come to wonder what may come in their contrasting lives after this accidental encounter between them.

During the prologue part, we see how Rosie (Violet Nelson) and Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who also directed and wrote the film with Kathleen Hepburn) are going through another day of their respective lives. Rosie is a young indigenous woman who has been pregnant for several months at least, but it is clear that she has been quite anxious and conflicted, as we watch her silently returning to a small residence where she has lived with her callous boyfriend and his mother. In contrast, Áila is an affluent middle-class indigenous woman who is a little older than Rosie, and her first scene in the film, which happens to be unfolded at a gynecological clinic, lets us discern her complicated feelings about having a baby with her current boyfriend.

Once its two main characters are introduced, the movie promptly takes us into a sudden situation between them. As walking back to her residence, Áila comes across Rosie on the road, and it is quite apparent from Rosie’s traumatized appearance that something really bad happened between Rosie and her boyfriend, who keeps shouting at her from the distance. Instantly sensing that Rosie really needs help, Alia suggests that they should go together to Áila’s residence, and Rosie reluctantly agrees to that, while still being quite shaken by whatever she suffered due to her boyfriend.


In Áila’s cozy apartment, Rosie comes to feel a bit better and calmer, though she still does not speak that much with Alia as struggling to deal with her current circumstance. Although she has a sister whom she might be able to depend on, she does not think her sister will help her, and, like many of those abused women out there, she even comes to consider going back to her boyfriend as making excuses for what happened between them.

Anyway, Áila patiently tries to help Rosie more, and it seems there is a way to help Rosie as they talk with each other bit by bit. As two indigenous women, they certainly have some common things to talk about, and Rosie gradually lets herself opened more to Áila. At one point, she listens to a pop song while Áila makes a few phone calls for helping Rosie, and the mood becomes a little more relaxed than before.

Fortunately, it turns out that there is a shelter available for Rosie, and she and Áila soon take a cab for going to that place, though Rosie still feels conflicted about what she should do. To the cab driver, she pretends to be Áila’s younger sister, and then she makes up a story about how she comes to take Áila to a rehabilitation center for addicts as a supportive younger sister. Understanding how much Rosie wants to distance herself from her ongoing situation, Áila simply goes along with that lie, and that is one of several tender moments in the film.

However, Áila cannot help but become suspicious when Rosie drops by a certain spot, and that leads to a tense moment which reminds us of the considerable social gap between them. While they eventually arrive at the shelter, nothing is certain for Rosie yet, and Áila later comes to learn more about how hard and difficult it is for those abused women like Rosie to decide whether they should go for a new start as walking away from abuse.


All these and other key moments in the film are continuously presented by a series of long-take shots flawlessly stitched together, and cinematographer Norm Li and editor Christian Siebenherz did a commendable job on the whole. Never seeming to be striving for dramatic effects, Li’s handheld 16mm film camera steadily follows or stays around the two main characters in the film, and the overall result is as dry, intense, and realistic as the works of the Dardenne brothers. As keeping observing Rosie and Áila, we become more emotionally involved in their respective emotional states, and that is the main reason why the final moment in the movie has considerable emotional resonance even though the movie firmly sticks to its restrained approach as before.

In addition, the movie is ably supported by its two main lead actresses, who come to us as the heart and soul of the film as giving one of the most impressive duo movie performances of last year. As Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers diligently holds the ground as required, newcomer Violet Nelson is simply terrific in her first movie performance, and it is constantly engaging to watch how she and her co-star convey to us their respective characters’ personality and humanity as subtly pulling or pushing each other on the screen.

In conclusion, “The Body Remembers When the World Broken Open” is recommendable thanks to its earnest performance and skillful direction, and I think this little independent Canadian film deserves some more attention, considering how it was quickly forgotten after being released in US in last November. Sure, the movie will require some patience from you, but you will never forget these two women after watching it.


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