TIFF 2020: Beans (Tracey Deer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman

“Fuck you,” whispers 12-year old Beans (Kiawentiio) to her reflection in the mirror, a playful gesture of self-deprecation that’s also a rehearsal for external clashes. It’s July 1990 in Oka, and if a preteen Mohawk girl is going to get through a summer of standoffs in one piece—or fit in with the tough-talking older kids she idolizes—she’s going to need some verbal ammunition. On one level, documentarian Tracey Deer’s feature debut is a radicalization narrative examining its heroine’s newly rebellious behaviour and rhetoric as a by-product of mainstream ostracization; in this, it makes a fine companion piece to the director’s NFB non-fiction standout Mohawk Girls (2005),which similarly limned adolescent experience in First Nations communities. Deftly blending archival footage with convincing re-creations of vigilante and state violence, the filmevinces a sense of history even as it moves steadily through a series of coming-of-age tropes, perhaps piling on one or two too many in the home stretch. Still, in producing an accessible, unsanitized drama foregrounding Indigenous experience—one that doesn’t hedge on depicting embedded Québécois racism and discrimination—Deer is staking out a fertile patch of filmmaking terrain. Notwithstanding its scattered clichés and discordantly triumphant finale (complete with swelling musical score), Beans manages the trick of working on its maker’s own terms as well as, potentially, for that most perplexing and elusive of national film-industrial myths: a wide commercial audience.