By David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Beans (Kiawentiio) wants to fit in. The 12-year-old Mohawk girl just applied to an elite middle school and she is being bullied by some older teens in her Indigenous community. While she struggles to find her place, two Mohawk communities begin a standoff with Quebec authorities over the expansion of a golf course into a neighbouring forest and burial ground, thrusting Beans into a world of racism and violence she has never experienced before.
In her first narrative Feature, Co-Writer/Director Tracey Deer has crafted a powerful coming-of-age story that centres around the Oka Crisis in 1990 Quebec. Deer does not shy away from the intensity of the situation, frequently thrusting her Cast right into the middle of her depiction. Her attention to detail is impeccable, and the way she merges actual news footage from the event with the Film’s recreations is superb. Beans is filled with scenes that are tragic and genuinely heartbreaking to watch, each one emphasizing the despicable racism these Indigenous communities were subjected to because they wanted to fight for their land rights. Deer does not even pretend to sugar coat any of it. Everything presented in Beans feels very real and very authentic, and so closely mirrors the actual news footage from 1990, not to mention from the present day, that it becomes downright frightening to comprehend.
For how great the Film looks and how awful it will make you feel to know that something like this happened (and is STILL happening), it would all be for nothing without Beans herself. We get to see the world through her eyes – and the young Kiawentiio is absolutely spectacular in the Leading Role. She captures the optimistic spirit of a typical 12-year-old and expertly conveys the trauma she has to endure because of the standoff. I think some of the tonal whiplash the Film goes through puts her at a disadvantage in some instances (and a particular extended moment in the Third Act drags the Film out needlessly), but she handles nearly everything with grace and an expert precision that extends beyond her years as an actor. First-time actors Violah Beauvais – as Beans’ younger sister Ruby – and Paulina Alexis – as Beans’ friend April – are cast perfectly and complement Kiawentiio’s beautiful performance. If anyone can even come close to matching her, it is Rainbow Dickerson as Beans’ mother Lily. Her vivid emotions are devastating to watch in action, and I doubt I will forget any of those visceral expressions any time soon.
BEANS screens at TIFF ’20 as follows:
Sun, Sep 13
TIFF Bell Lightbox
12:00pm and 12:30pm
Tue, Sept 15
Online at Bell Digital Cinema