IT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF NON WESTERN!
This Cinequest, there’s a film that will certainly provoke audiences to dig deep into the questions of identity, moral values and tradition. Far from being a western spaghetti, Non Western is a documentary that tells the story of Thaddeus and Nanci, a couple that is soon to be married. But, as we accompany their journey in the previous days of marriage, we discover that this couple comes from different backgrounds: Nanci is Catholic and was raised in the Lakota tribe principles, while Thaddeus has Cheyenne blood running through his veins. There is a contrast between what each one of them sees in their roles by marrying one another. Nanci is, as she calls herself, a “modern woman”, educated in child literature, working as a teacher in universities and attending conferences all around the United States; Thaddeus is a family man, and wants Nanci to submit herself to the conservative Cheyenne traditions, which forces his future wife to change everything she worked for in her life and her own identity. Non Western acts like the setup in which this couple tries to find common ground between these incompatible cultural values.
It’s an intriguing, thought-provoking documentary that captivates by allowing both Thaddeus and Nanci to explain themselves and being honest with each other (and the world for that matter) about the difficulties of renouncing their origins and identities for the sake of their love. Non Western is a difficult film to digest, as it becomes more unlevelled in giving the characters the right amount of time to express themselves and being impartial at the same time. Directed by Laura Plancarte, Non Western is actually a very culturally rich documentary that tackles something that is extremely personal and that leaves room for many interpretations. The complex pasts of each leading characters makes the situation even harder to follow, as we never feel comfortable in making assumptions about what to believe and which values are the “right ones”. Plancarte is clever in never interfering with the judgemental aspect of the film, by allowing both Thaddeus and Nanci to speak for themselves and never cultivates anything that may set them apart. That is the essence that makes Non Western such an interesting example of provocative filmmaking. But there are issues here that inevitably damage the film’s seriousness, specially with some stylistic approaches that don’t quite fit nicely into the narrative.
Using slow motion close-ups on the characters with them looking directly at the camera, instead of leading the audience to try and understand their motives, feeds this feeling of some rehearsed shots, which removes our engagement in taking them seriously as we did since the start of the film. There is also unnecessary imagery put inbetween chapters that only slows down our eagerness to find out more about this story. Also, and this is the biggest blow to the film, it relies too much on Thaddeus’ cultural background and ends up neglecting Nanci even without having those intentions. While we understand that Thaddeus conflict may be hard, Nanci’s identity is the ultimate sacrifice that these cultural values are imposing on her, making it the most sensitive part of the story and the one, if anything, should have had more focus. It is clear that Thaddeus is a good man, and that the relationship with his mother is the final catalyst for him to try and stick with these traditions that he runned away from years ago. The battles between tradition and modernization have been constant in these last few years, and there are difficulties in adapting these traditions to a more loose and non-regressive modern society, and Non Western tells a story that is somewhat unhinged in the treatment given to its main characters. We feel that Nanci is still being left out and that Thaddeus is imposing his masculine authority to define what he wants for his life, and he is constantly rejecting Nanci’s attempts to learn the Cheyenne ways, even if she is adapting herself without following the most strict and male privileged ones.
That is somehow painful for the viewer to watch and one can only think why is Plancarte constantly going out with Thaddeus to restaurants makes the difference in making progressive cinema. Although the film is provoking, there are also a lot of inconsistencies that make Non Western unbalanced in the treatment of its story. Fortunately, the ending is definitely satisfying and one can only hope that Thaddeus and Nanci really have found common ground in loving one another despite their distinctive backgrounds. As a film, Non Western is certainly worth the watch, but as it dwelves in dangerous waters, should have been more levelled in presenting the two contrasting points of view and leave some unnecessary moments out of the picture. Ultimately, Non Western has its reasons well defined, searching for the audience’s empathy towards the conflict between identity and cultural background and it succeeds in doing so.
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Title: Non Western
Original Title: Non Western
Director: Laura Plancarte
Runtime: 93 min.