Whether you watch a screen-based apocalypse unfold on a fictional drama or the evening news, the focus usually lands on the picturesque and chaotic destruction that our little monkey brains just can’t look away from. But what if the apocalypse wasn’t the disaster we fear it to be, but a chance to reset the (un)natural order of things? Enter writer/director Darlene Naponse’s latest feature, Stellar.
R.E.M’s hit track has come true as the world seems to be ending as we know it. Fires rage, floods churn, and citizens are in an ever-increasing panic. Not so much at an urban Ontario bar however, where two unnamed Indigenous strangers (Elle-Máijå Tailfeathers and Braeden Clarke) bond over a few drinks and reflect about their lives, their mutual disdain for modern life, and disconnection from their homes up north.
Friends and foes alike stop by the bar, sometimes for a drink, sometimes just to urge the pair to seek better shelter, but all ultimately just passing through. Even the bar’s restless owner (Rosiff Sutherland) doesn’t stick around for long, opting to try his luck in the exterior chaos.
As the ever-shifting outside becomes more and more esoteric (at least to our eyes), the lines between disaster and rebirth are ever blurred as our characters become further enraptured in a cosmic shift that will either spell doom or a new beginning.
Naponse has a lot on her mind with this screenplay, touching on subjects ranging from climate change, colonialism, the 2-Spirited community, elite academia, homesickness, and likely others that eluded me on this first viewing. Tailfeathers and Clarke are a delightful duo, lending the film both warmth and gravitas where required and uniting as a vital core for the story’s events to revolve around.
The themes of the film suggest that the end of the current system of things need not be an end in itself, but rather a chance for renewal, like a forest regenerating after a brush fire. It’s a message bound to bristle more than a few feathers, but since the film is not so literally rendered, it may be prudent to accept it simply as a challenge to orthodox ways of thinking.
Cinematically, the film is also an absolute joy to the ocular nerves with cinematographer Mathieu Seguin working hand-in-glove with VFX Supervisor Steven Sangster to paint a gorgeous and eye-popping visual journey.
Stellar is that rare type of film that you cease to analyze with your brain and simply let take your soul by the hand, wherever it may lead. Director Naponse has delivered another gem in her filmography (I reviewed her previous feature Falls Around Her back in 2019) and proves that the “Indigenous New Wave” I used to rave about has crested and now settled into the vast and eclectic ocean that is Canadian cinema.
Stellar screens as part of the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (VIWIFF) @ the VIFF Centre on Saturday, March 11, 6pm