This review was provided by Vanessa Matsubara from our Open Call for Film Critics & Writers! Buy your Festival pass or individual tickets to watch both these films on GFF On Demand. Please check out Vanessa’s other review of Anbessa here!
dir. Myriam Verreault
2019 | Canada | 117 min.
Review by Vanessa Matsubara
“I’d like you to know her, the girl with the round belly. She, who will raise her children alone and scream at her cheating boyfriend.”
Kuessipan follows two Innu teenagers Mikuan (Sharon Fontaine-Ishpatato) and Shaniss (Yamie Grégoire) as they navigate through early adulthood.
Although they grew up as best friends on the Québec Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam reservation, Mikuan and Shaniss lead different lives. Mikuan lives with her loving family and has plans to pursue a career in writing and dreams of moving to the city. Shaniss spent her childhood bouncing around to different abusive homes, dropped out of high school, and lives with her boyfriend Greg (Douglas Grégoire) and their baby. These discrepancies challenge their friendship, but their love for each other proves to be stronger.
Like many coming-of-age movies, there are moments that warm your heart and others that break it. What sets Kuessipan apart from the rest, is the way in which it is told. Most films of this genre that include people of colour focus on the oppression they face rather than the person they are. Kuessipan delves deeper and shows us two 17-year-old girls dealing with first love, abusive partners, and other challenges that teenagers, no matter their background, tackle.
Their Innu identity is a strong part of their life and one that factors into every aspect of it, but it is not the only one that they carry. The stories of Indigenous and racialized women have a long reputation of not being told correctly, if at all. Myriam Verreault and Naomi Fontaine have illustrated a beautiful story that rings true to people who have been grossly underrepresented.
The final scene encapsulates the entire film in all the right ways. Picturesque shots of Shaniss and her family paired with Mikuan reading her touching monologue shows us that they are two halves of a complete whole. Shaniss is a fighter, whereas Mikuan is more eloquent in nature. Together they create a balanced dynamic, each bringing out the best in the other.
The final lines are the kind that have you smiling through tears:
“Do you see the gaze that burns from inside her? Eyes of Indian women who have seen everything and are surprised they laugh so often.”