The debut feature from Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao (Nomadland, The Rider), Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a slow, observational narrative set on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.
Using almost exclusively non-professional actors, Zhao’s unsentimental, unsparing tale unfolds naturally. An almost plotless coming-of-age, teenage Johnny (John Reddy) plans to split the hopeless monotony of the reservation for LA with girlfriend Aurelia (Taysha Fuller). But that would mean leaving behind his younger sister, Jashuan (Jashuan St Winter). The death of their absentee father and the coming together of siblings from other mothers sees plans change.
With many of the cast related, as a commentary on family, home and society living on the margins, Songs My Brothers Taught Me is respectful and deeply authentic. But it’s not an easy watch. Grim and unforgiving, in stripping away any romanticised concepts of living on such reservations, Zhao reveals truth in the bare bones. Beautifully made – but dull and unengaging.