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article imageReview: TIFF 2019: ‘Kuessipan’ is about the strength of female friendship Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 17, 2019 in Entertainment
‘Kuessipan’ is the story of two young women whose lifelong friendship is tested by new relationships and diverging futures.
Based on historical circumstances, groups of people are pigeonholed into certain types of narratives. That’s not to say those stories aren’t true, but there’s also an argument to be made that other tales are equally true. For Indigenous people, movies often focus on the difficulties of maintaining their traditions, injustices perpetrated by the government, the impact of residential schools, the disproportionate rates of addiction and suicide, and other “problems.” But they’re also just people with jobs, families, relationships, dreams and regular stories to tell. In Kuessipan, two young women from the same Quebec Innu community find they have less in common the older they become.
Mikuan (Sharon Ishpatao Fontaine) and Shaniss (Yamie Grégoire) have been inseparable since they were children — literally, any attempt to separate them was circumvented by the girls. Now in their late teens, their lives have taken significantly different paths. Shaniss has a baby and is living with its father, who Mikuan doesn’t approve of because he’s regularly in trouble with the police and has a quick temper. But Shaniss is satisfied with propagating their race and supporting her man. Mikuan, on the other hand, does well in school, joins a writing workshop and plans to go to university in Quebec City. While she’s not intentionally distancing herself from Shaniss, Mikuan doesn’t share her views on fraternizing with the white people in town and is forced to hide her new relationship with a boy named Francis (Étienne Galloy).
This is a movie about a deep-rooted friendship, which makes it very similar to a romantic relationship in which there are intense feelings, passionate arguments and temporary rifts. In spite of making different life choices, the young women do their best to remain close. However, they are also evolving based on their individual experiences and their worldviews are growing apart, which causes them to fight more frequently and need space where it was never required before. The simplification is Shaniss wants to stay small town and Mikuan can’t wait for the big city, creating a problem without a satisfactory compromise.
The film is also an example of how their families have preserved their culture without making it the centre of the story. While their primary language is French, they still know their native tongue and value its meaning and significance… and ability to make the white boy look silly in front of Mikuan’s relatives. Mikuan’s parents go on an annual hunting trip and return with a whole deer, which the family dismembers together. Her mother makes beaded jewellery, while her grandmother sleeps in a tent in their backyard. Mikuan’s writing is also very reflective of her life and environment, beautifully describing her distinct impressions of the world and her surroundings.
The film is not without tragedy, though it’s predictable to some extent and the details are not dwelled upon as its effect on those remaining is more relevant. The actresses are excellent in portraying two women who are believable as friends, but also clearly no longer on the same wavelength. However, most notably, neither is willing to compromise their values to regain harmony in their friendship — instead, they have to learn to accept each other as they’ve become or learn to live without each other. The picture ends with not necessarily a solution, but a natural conclusion.
Kuessipan had its world premiere in the Discovery category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2019 coverage.
Director: Myriam Verreault
Starring: Sharon Ishpatao Fontaine, Yamie Grégoire and Étienne Galloy
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