Three Rivers Film Festival Preview: “The Unknown Country”

Year: 2022

Runtime: 85 minutes

Director: Morrisa Maltz

Writers: Morrisa Maltz, Lily Gladstone (story by), Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux (story by), Vanara Taing (story by)

Stars: Lily Gladstone, Raymond Lee, Richard Ray Whitman, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Devin Shangreaux, Pam Richter, Scott Stampe, Florence R. Perrin, Teresa Boyd

By Morgan Roberts

There is something that has happened since the start of the pandemic. Our isolation has become glaring, but so has our yearning and appreciation for our interpersonal relationships. In Morrisa Maltz‘s “The Unknown Country,” we follow Tana (Lily Gladstone) as she travels through the United States on a journey of rediscovery.

We meet Tana after the death of their grandmother, someone they were particularly close to. As she travels from her friend’s wedding to the reservation to a diner to a motel to a casino, she encounters a host of individuals, all leading seemingly ordinary lives, holding profound and moving beliefs. There is a particularly beautiful scene between Tana and Grandpa August (Richard Ray Whitman) about life and loss that is truly stunning.

At the core of “The Unknown Country,” we have an extraordinary performance by Gladstone. From the first frame, they draw you in just by their presence alone. When we get to see her interact with others, you cannot help but sense a sagacious quality to her character. For instance, as their friends Lainey (Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux) and Devin (Devin Shangreaux) are getting married, you feel Gladstone’s waves of emotions. Whether or not she articulates them is irrelevant, but you experience that wonder, that elation, that sadness, and that pain she feels in that moment.

Gladstone’s constant companion through the film is the world around them. From the bright lights of Dallas, TX to the majestic beauty of the West, every road Gladstone takes is just as breathtaking as the next. The scenery is enhanced by cinematographer Andrew Hajek‘s keen eye for capturing the beauty in these various settings.

“The Unknown Country” is a quiet but powerful film. It validates the audiences’ yearning for belonging while marveling at the beauty of loss, resilience, and living. For fans of “Nomadland”(2020) or any Kelly Reichardt film, “The Unknown Country” can join their ranks as a winsome Western that will have you appreciating the glory of life.

“The Unknown Country” will be featured at the Three Rivers Film Festival on Tuesday, 15 Nov 2022 at 7:40pm at the Harris Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with “The Unknown Country” producer Laura Heberton.


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