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Smoke Signals is a somewhat misunderstood film. The setting on an Indian reservation leads viewers to trust that Smoke Signals is about Indian problems or Indian philosophy. To be sure, the presence of Indian values and culture create this film decidedly more enjoyable, but the film is more transcendent, more universal than a purely Indian film. And, while this was heralded as the first film to be written, directed and co-produced by Native Americans, there is something here for everyone, regardless of ethnicity.More than anything else, this film appealed to me as a writer. Taken from Sherman Alexie's brilliant collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist War in Heaven". it is beautifully written and expertly crafted from beginning to end. The first scene, narrated lyrically by Evan Adams as Thomas Builds-the-fire, sets the tone for a storyline handed down, as with Native American culture, in real oral tradition.The French title, Le secret des cendres (The secret of the ashes) more accurately describes the ebook and the movie, both of which gotta be experienced to totally appreciate Alexie's genius. With multiple allusions to fire and ash, every having various meanings, as well as a well integrated test of Native American lore, Smoke Signals requires more than a tiny thought for the average American viewer.The storyline revolves around two young Coeur d' Alene Indian boys dealing with loss and the end of childhood innocence. The two boys cope with loss in very various ways; Thomas though mysticism and legend, Victor through stoicism and denial. When Victor Joseph, brilliantly played by Adam Beach, learns that his estranged father has died, he and Thomas embark on a adventure to claim the ashes, other allusion of the french title, and on the method receive in touch with their identities as adults apart from their parents.Evan Adams is stupendous as Thomas Builds-the-fire. His storytelling scenes are pure magic. By imbuing easy memories with mystical reverence, he elevates them, and thus both himself and his listeners, to a fresh spiritual level. His exaltation of the ordinary is the core of this delicious work of genius. It culminates with a reading, slightly modified, of Dick Lourie's poem "Forgiving Our Fathers". Lourie, who is a self-described unreconstructed beatnik poet, brings a fragile and elegant beauty to the film's emotional climax. The final scenes, driven by Adams' narration and haunting Native American chant and music, are nothing short of miraculous.Adam Beach, strapping and stalwart as Victor Joseph, managed to parlay his appearance in Smoke Signals into a respectable movie career. Evan Adams, diminutive and shy as Thomas Builds-the-fire, was not so lucky despite his masterful performance. Perhaps Admas' aspirations ran along various lines, as these days, even after starring in what is basically a sequel (The Business of Fancydancing, also by Alexie) Adams can actually be named Dr. Adams, as he has become a respected and accomplished physician in British Columbia. The helping cast was equally magnificent, and every lends credibility and energy to the movie. An interesting sidenote is that Irene Bedard, who appears as Suzy Song, was the physical model for Pocahontas in the Disney animated feature. I have seen this film many times, and will undoubtedly watch it many more. Every time I am left in silent awe as I reflect on my own life, family, and philosophies.
The eyes of cinema has everytime seen Indians only as the terrible guys. The ones that shoot their arrows, wear feathers on their heads, and yell as they chase the heroes down. Finally, after 100 years of movies, we receive a movie that honestly portrays the Native American culture. And man, it sure is refreshing.The storyline opens on the Fourth of July, 1976 in a tiny Idaho Indian reservation. A tiny infant called Thomas Builds-the-Fire is thrown out of the window of a burning house and is caught by Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer), a neighbor with a drinking problem, who is soon kicked out of the house by his wife, leaving behind his son, Victor (Adam Beach). Arnold eventually settles down in Phoenix and his family never hears from him again.20 years later, a smartphone call comes. It's from a girl in Phoenix, she tells that Arnold is dead. Victor, who had developed a resentment towards his father over the years, decides that he could travel to Phoenix to pick up his ashes. Unfortunately, he has no cash to receive there... but Thomas does and offers to pay if he can come along with Victor. This is a tough decision for Victor since he never really liked Thomas, but he finally agrees and the two set off on their journey.It's during their adventure that we learn about the characters, Victor and Thomas' conversations reveal their attitudes towards Americans their views of Native Americans. In one scene, Victor accuses Thomas of learning everything about being an Indian from watching Dances With Wolves. In other funny sequence, the two start talking about cowboys and end up singing a tune about John Wayne's teeth! Victor's resentment for his father is also revealed to us through flashbacks depicting the early years and the memories (some good, some bad) that the two shared.They do eventually arrive in Phoenix and search the girl that named with the news of Arnold's death. Victor talks with her during the night and finds out how much his dad cared for him and how he never wanted to leave the reservation in the first place. The happenings that follow drastically alter Victor's perceptions of his father forever.Smoke Signals is a nice movie and one that can teach you a lot about a culture so often misrepresented on the screen. There is a feeling of ease and casualness in the conversations between Victor and Thomas... slowly they reveal more and more of themselves to us, in a method that is so nonchalant that we understand their feelings it without even noticing it. Smoke Signals is well worth your time and offers a refreshing alternative to the large budget, unique results driven crap this summer.
"Smoke Signals" is one of the most special films I have ever seen. From the combinations of stories, characters, and filmmaking. The acting in this film was witty, funny, serious and heartbreaking all at the same time. Even though this is a film about Native American culture, it is a film that talks to everyone no matter what there ethnic background may be. I am of Italian heritage but this film still got to me. It tackles problems of family, culture, and tradition as well as friendship. The acting is this film is magnificent and the filmmaker's shots and various methods of filming scenes and how every one flowed into other was amazing. In school we had to read some stories by Sherman Alexie and then we watched the movie. If it weren't for my English teacher I may have missed watching one of the most brilliant independent movies ever made.
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