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Tribeca Review: ‘Jazzy’ is Morrisa Maltz’s Dreamlike Sophomore Feature about Friendship

Traditional narrative storytelling can be overrated. There are many ways in which to craft a compelling tale that’s both engaging and memorable, and that’s often done by playing against the rules. Morrisa Maltz made her feature debut with The Unknown Country, the first of three Lily Gladstone-starring films released in the past few years to catapult her to stardom and definitely the most unstructured. While Gladstone plays a much smaller role that basically amounts to a cameo, those who appreciated Maltz’s work in her first film will be pleased to find a similar approach for her sophomore feature.

Jasmine Shangreaux, whose only previous film credit is The Unknown Country, plays Jazzy, an Oglala Lakota girl in South Dakota. Her best friend is Syriah, and they have ups and downs in their relationship between the ages of six and twelve. They speak to each other honestly and bluntly, sometimes seeming as if they’re far more mature than they are and at others feeling exactly like pre-teen girls trying to navigate their way through a world they don’t fully yet understand. The arguments they have don’t feel earth-shattering or overblown, but still have an impact and can feel consequential because the words they use do matter and linger.

Maltz utilizes a very minimalist filmmaking style that often feels like it’s merely observing what these characters are doing without being fully present. While her first feature followed its protagonist as she drove across the country, this film remains largely in the same place but instead moves through time rather than space. There are no clear markers to show when time has passed or how much, but the key moments that are extracted from the relationship between these two girls feel almost randomly selected, taken without consideration of their enduring value but instead as indicative samples of how these two interact. The order of events almost doesn’t matter because life can so often be cyclical, and true friendships stand the test of time.

Maltz is a talented director committed to telling Native stories, and Gladstone’s participation in the film as an executive producer in addition to her very minor role is sure to positively amplify its profile at a time when Killers of the Flower Moon has introduced audiences to a renewed interest in hearing Native voices. Unlike that lengthy historical epic from a non-Native director, this film is brimming with authenticity simply by being, making no effort to be showy or deliberately feature something that might feel relevant or compelling. This is life captured and transmitted as it is, and that looks largely the same as the American experience for most with a few significant cultural flourishes, the same that might distinguish any community from its neighbors.

There is a dreamlike feel that persists throughout this film, and it’s clear that Maltz understands the power of the camera and particularly not needing to be in control of every moment. This hands-off tactic works wonders, allowing Jazzy to tell her own story, and Shangreaux truly is exceptional. She anchors scenes that otherwise might feel too distant and uninvolved, and does so in an extremely natural way. Part of the credit is surely hers but the rest again must be directed back to Maltz, who seems to know just what guidance to give to ensure an effective and very quietly commanding performance. In her film debut, Syriah Fool Head Means also impresses, and while those looking to see what Gladstone is up to might find this film for a chance to see more of her, they’ll be pleasantly surprised and wowed by the two much younger performers that make this film feel real and resounding.

Movie Rating: 8/10

Awards Buzz: The Gotham Awards and the Film Independent Spirit Awards both feted Maltz’s first feature, and while this production may still be too artsy for general Oscar tastes, awards attention from smaller, more indie-focused bodies is likely.

Author

  • Abe Friedtanzer

    Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them.

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