Thursday, June 13, 2024

“JAZZY”

THE STORY – Spanning from ages 6 to 12, the film follows Jazzy, a young Oglala Lakota girl growing up in South Dakota, and her best friend Syriah as they navigate the joys and challenges of their ever-changing relationship, capturing the essence of their unique perspective with a dreamlike, documentary-style approach.

THE CAST – Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux, Syriah Foohead Means, Richard Ray Whitman, Raymond Lee & Lily Gladstone

THE TEAM – Morrisa Maltz (Director/Writer), Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Vanara Taing, Andrew Hajek (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 86 Minutes


In Morrisa Maltz’s “The Unknown Country,” a woman named Tana (Lily Gladstone) travels across the Midwest to reconnect with her estranged Oglala Lakota family in South Dakota. While there, she attends her cousin’s wedding. This is where we are introduced to the Bearkiller-Shangreaux family for the first time. Lainey, Devin, and their young daughter, Jasmine, instantly welcome Tana and the audience into their home. In “The Unknown Country,” Tana takes a journey towards an unknown destination. Maltz’s stunning spiritual companion to her previous film, “Jazzy,” takes on a similar journey – but for the young Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux. “Jazzy,” shot over six years, revisits the family we first met in “The Unknown Country” and follows Jasmine as she navigates childhood and impending adulthood while dealing with loss and independence.

We are reunited with the young Oglala Lakota girl as she celebrates her 7th birthday. The film follows Jasmine, or “Jazzy,” from this age until 12 years old, alongside her best friend, Syriah (Syriah Foohead Means), as they deal with the pains of growing up. As we follow their day-to-day life, seeing them at school with their peers and taking the many bus rides to and from, we are privy to many intimate conversations. We learn about them most in these moments: their likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams. The film captures the beauty of how these girls see the world. The bonding between them, the moments where they goof around and have fun, with the camera’s focus on the nature around them, makes them as much a part of the landscape as the surrounding hills and sunflower fields.

Jazzy and Syriah are so sweet together, and so much joy is found in spending time with this friendship. There are early signs of teen angst as they speak of what growing up will be like, which “sounds ugly,” as Syriah describes. They learn this the hard way when Syriah moves away to live closer to her grandparents on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Syriah’s absence is felt throughout the remainder of the film. While Jazzy tries to cope with new friends, flashbacks to moments of her and her best friend together are a reminder of a difficult loss. There are scenes when Jazzy makes new decisions for herself, like dying her hair blue, and you can feel an emptiness in those moments because what’s the point of doing anything if you can’t share it with your best friend?

We feel the pain in Jazzy and Syriah’s separation, more so than we perhaps would if it weren’t for the improvisation quality of the film. Much like in her previous work, Maltz lets the subjects of her film be. There’s an intimacy in having the camera feel like a fly on the wall. Both stories focus on people who are usually pushed into the periphery, but here, Jazzy and Syriah drive the story. What it feels like to leave the dreamlike world of childhood behind is told through their own perspective, creating a much more mesmerizing and profound experience than if it was told through a director’s lens. What really signals that the experience and perspective of the children in the film are most important is the fact that adults are kept off-camera completely or remain out of focus for the majority of the film. It isn’t until much later, towards the film’s end, at the scene of a funeral, that the whole family comes into focus. We finally see figures like Jazzy’s mother and the film’s co-writer and producer,  Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, along with executive producer Lily Gladstone, coming back to reunite with this family.

And it’s such a beautiful reunion, deepening the audience’s connection to the family we first met in “The Unknown Country.” It also ends in a way that reflects the latter in its story of discovery: A sweeping shot of its picturesque setting focuses on the film’s subjects, signaling that their journey has led them to where they’re supposed to be. A celebration of home and youth, Maltz, with this sequel of sorts, creates an authentic and emotionally resonant coming-of-age drama that can’t be missed.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Because of the film's improvisation quality, the dreamlike world of childhood is told through the perspective of the children at the story's center, creating a much more mesmerizing and profound experience than if it was told through a director's lens.

THE BAD - With a longer runtime, the film could have felt like a more linear progression of Jazzy's growing up. Some of the song choices and parts of the score feel too overpowering against its more reflective tone.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Sara Clements
Sara Clementshttps://nextbestpicture.com
Writes at Exclaim, Daily Dead, Bloody Disgusting, The Mary Sue & Digital Spy. GALECA Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Because of the film's improvisation quality, the dreamlike world of childhood is told through the perspective of the children at the story's center, creating a much more mesmerizing and profound experience than if it was told through a director's lens.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>With a longer runtime, the film could have felt like a more linear progression of Jazzy's growing up. Some of the song choices and parts of the score feel too overpowering against its more reflective tone.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"JAZZY"