Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
Chloé Zhao is perhaps the greatest new director to emerge in the past few years. Her style is ferociously unique and her humanising portrayal of people rarely seen in cinema makes for something insightful. Her debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me centres on a relatable and believable sibling relationship, filled with tenderness and mixed feelings. Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a film of place and of people, lingering on the real rather than abstracting some fantasy. It is very specific to the community it depicts, something Zhao always manages to achieve. Here we get a glimpse of rural poverty, crime, and alcoholism as it exists on reservations. Songs My Brothers Taught Me is an intimate film, getting close enough to show real tears. It is also delicately placed, with touches of pure arthouse aesthetics that could come from a Malick film, though this is a more grounded effort. The shots are incredible and in touch with nature more than most. It reminds us that the world is beautiful even when our lives are not. Songs My Brothers Taught Me is about inescapable circumstance and the limited opportunity presented to its characters. It's so difficult to find a way in life. The film presents complicated feelings, from indifference that should be sad to hate that should be love. The pain of family is often too much to bear. On the one hand Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a more generic social realist arthouse film than Zhao's later works, and so ends up weaker and with less of an identity. Yet it still shows us faces of real people, and the grace of such simple humanity has value in and of itself.