Seymour Polatkin is a successful, gay Native American poet from Spokane who confronts his past when he returns to his childhood home on the reservation to attend the funeral of a dear ...
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Donavon G. Barney,
Seymour Polatkin is a successful, gay Native American poet from Spokane who confronts his past when he returns to his childhood home on the reservation to attend the funeral of a dear friend. Written by
I saw this at the Portland International Film Festival on Feb. 10, 2002. Writer-director Alexie said they were still tinkering with it and might add in some scenes we did not see.
The "plot" is fairly sketchy. Seymour Polatkin, a young and successful gay poet who left the Spokane Reservation to go to college and settle in Seattle, returns to the res for the funeral of a close friend, a violinist named "Mouse" who committed suicide. Also present are their childhood buddy Aristotle Joseph (the rather stereotypical "fierce Indian") and Agnes, a half-Indian, half-Jewish woman with whom Seymour had a passionate college affair before accepting his homosexuality, who has returned to the res to teach.
Alexie regulars Cynthia Geary and Elaine Miles, familiar from "Northern Exposure" and Alexie's last film project, "Smoke Signals," are on hand in cameos.
The movie is a sort of collage, with many flashbacks, scenes of various characters dancing in colorful costumes on a black stage, and cheap video footage the characters ostensibly shot of each other. The acting is mostly okay, though rarely inspired; the writing much the same. Camerawork is rather dull, though Alexie chooses lovely landscapes, moods, and colors for his shots.
A narrative trick of questionable utility is "The Interviewer": a young black female journalist pinions several of the characters (particularly Seymour and Aristotle) with tough, condescending, and sometimes obvious questions in that same no-space of black stage. The writing for these scenes is decent, but I wasn't convinced of the need for them.
Alexie readily admits to doing much improvisation and gutwork -- the film was shot in 14 days with 6 additional days of fill-in shooting -- and he likes to leave plenty of questions unanswered, from the Russian origins of his protagonist's name to the meaning of the dancing sequences, the reasons for Mouse's suicide, or a rather brutal scene where Ari beats up a stranded white motorist and insists Mouse join him. This is fine, and I had no problem with most of it; in fact, it was the more obvious imagery, such as Seymour slowly and dispiritedly doffing his dance outfit toward the end of the story when he leaves the res again, presumably forever, that I found irritating.
Alexie said he was extremely annoyed by such films as "Finding Forrester," where a writer's talents (both the veteran's and the rookie's) are ballyhooed but never actually shown, so Seymour reads a number of his poems on the soundtrack over the visual action.
In sum, this is a fair, promising independent feature that is hardly outstanding but takes some laudable risks and provides further welcome exposure to Native American culture, actors, and ideas.
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