Songs My Brothers Taught Me

Songs My Brothers Taught Me ★★★★½

Review by Eric Hillis

I've long felt that America is wasted on modern American filmmakers. Where once American directors ventured out into their country's great landscape and filmed craggy actors like Warren Oates and Walter Brennan, today's crop would rather shoot a bunch of British public school graduates in front of a greenscreen in a Burbank warehouse.

Chloé Zhao may be Chinese, but her films are more American than most of the movies made by her American contemporaries. Her storytelling is as American as that of Ford, Hawks and Peckinpah. Her stories are populated by the same sort of people – stubborn, rugged individuals who symbolise everything that makes America so equally fascinating and frustrating. Her first two movies take place in a neglected corner of America, South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, with members of the local Lakota Sioux community playing alternate versions of themselves. Zhao isn't concerned with plot so much as characters, and how those characters coalesce into a community. Her films have much in common with the recent work of Malick, with the landscape, the horses and everything else under that big Dakota sky playing a vital role in the drama.

Zhao broke out with her second feature, 2017's The Rider, but it's only now that her 2015 debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me is seeing the light of day on this side of the pond, likely due to the awards buzz around her acclaimed third feature, Nomadland. More...

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