Review: Beans

Written and directed by Tracey Deer and co-written by Meredith Vuchnich, based on true events, chronicling the 78-day standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in 1990 Quebec. Starring: Kiawentiio, Violah Beauvais, Rainbow Dickerson, Joel Montgrand, Paulina Alexis, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai and Jay Cardinal Villeneuve.

While it’s likely this moment in history will be unfamiliar for a huge portion of viewers, it quickly becomes clear that it’s one which needs to be told. With Canada frequently portrayed as a country filled with over polite citizens, this film might change your mind and open your eyes. Deer and Vuchnich have created a masterful blend of coming-of-age and political, historical drama. It combines the awkwardness and rebellion of discovering yourself as an almost teen with discovering how despicable, hateful and violent the world can be.

It manages to touch upon notes of sweetness and sentimentality without them getting lost or dampened by the severity of the harrowing events overtaking their daily lives. Beans’s story is utterly relatable, trying to come out of her shell, impress the cool kids and figure herself out, portraying how even in the midst of a crisis these key experiences and emotions can’t be put aside for children. It’s then also utterly heart-breaking to watch what the Mohawk communities went through, moving far from everyday racism to an all out war against them. The unrelenting hatred is almost unbelievable and yet sadly familiar.

One of the best decisions Tracey Deer made was to include real news footage, it drives the horrific racism these communities were facing to a necessary and hard to watch level. Again, it’s impressive how they manage to balance the tones of family and political drama but it works impeccably well. It flows terrifically and the intensity is always sitting in the background but breaks out when it needs to. It has a softened hue that nicely represents its 90s setting and helps cement that balance.

Kiawentiio brings a sympathetic, sweet and defiantly relatable performance which only strengthens as time goes on. Her evolution with the crisis is one of rightful defiance, watching her realise what’s happening is wrong and they need to fight back is inspiring to watch. It no doubt reflects the experience of many young activists today, sparked by outrage at injustice. Paulina Alexis gives a surprising performance, what you might think is going down a usual road, has much more to offer. Rainbow Dickerson also gives a great performance, nailing how unenviable a position she was in, raising two children with another on the way, while their safety is so uncertain. It’s a film full of strong women and the whole cast does great justice to that.

Beans is moving and poignant, it brings all the ingredients for a coming-of-age tale then changes the game completely with its intense political themes. It’s a moment of history which deserves to be captured and Deer’s choice to tell it through the eyes of a child perfectly explores the severity of the situation. It holds a strong cast, writing, direction and a well chosen selection of haunting news footage.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½ | 9/10

Reviewed as part of Raindance Film Festival 2021

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