Mary (Tantoo Cardinal) has built a successful music career for herself, but the years of touring have taken its toll. Exhausted and looking to reconnect with nature, Mary leaves her latest tour early, much to the chagrin of her manager Keith (Rob Stewart), and heads home to the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation in northern Ontario.
Wanting nothing more than to recharge and spend the rest of the winter as a recluse, Mary’s plans do not quite turn out as expected. While she spends her days reconnecting with nature, and even finds herself going on a few dates, Mary is unable to shake the feeling that someone, or something, is stalking her. Furthermore, her sister Betty (Tina Keeper) cannot help but wonder what has caused Mary to drop everything and hide from the world. Fearing that this isolation may cause Mary to relapse into some painful habits of the past, Betty pushes Mary to spend time with family and friends in hopes of steering her clear of the darkness that once engulfed her.
The mystery of what happened in Mary’s past is dangled like a lure on a hook, however, Falls Around Her never takes the bait. Director Darlene Naponse provides enough breadcrumbs to give a haunting feel to the various levels of tragedy and pain Mary has endured. However, Naponse never lets her protagonist get consumed by the hardships of the past. Even as Mary becomes increasingly uneasy about her surroundings, Naponse’s film makes it clear that this is not a tale of victimhood, but one of resilience.
As we observe Mary’s interactions with nature, and the spiritual healing it provides her, it becomes clear that a rebirth is taking place. The weary woman who we see sauntering off stage mid-set is awakened by her environment. Despite the traumas of the past, Naponse reminds audiences that Mary is a woman who is reclaiming the power external forces have attempted to take from her.
Comfortable in her own skin, one of the most refreshing aspects of Falls Around Her is observing Mary embracing her sexuality. A trait that is rarely afford to women of a certain age, let alone one of indigenous origins, in most films.
Even in her moments of uncertainty, there is a bad ass strength that radiates from Mary which is infectious. Just as the community protestors will not be moved by threats from a local mining company, whose reckless treatment of the land leads to arsenic in the water, Mary refuses to let the past terrorize her. She is the embodiment of countless First Nation’s women who have had to take matters into their own hands to free themselves of those who treated their minds and bodies as controllable and disposable commodities.
Anchored by Tantoo Cardinal’s captivating performance, Falls Around Her is a nuanced and empowering story of a woman reclaiming control of her life and land.