Barking Water's Hardly Cheerful Native America

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Barking Water
Directed by Sterlin Harjo
Cinema Purgatorio and Lorber Films
May 12 through 17, MOMA

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Sprung out the hospital by his ex-girlfriend, Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman) is clearly dying. That he is an Indian dying in Indian country makes his homeward journey inherently symbolic: Just as the elderly couple drives their old Volvo wagon to a certain funeral, the old ways are dying, too. Writer-director Sterlin Harjo is a Seminole-Creek Indian, and he refuses to detour the trip into sentimentality or pathos. Barking Water is hardly a cheerful representation of Native America (or, specifically, Oklahoma). Frankie and Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek) were never married, and there are suggestions he may’ve been a bastard to her. But happier memories -- seen in flashbacks faded like Polaroids -- keep them going. They visit a few family members, including a pair of “Yo, wassup?” reservation homies, but, mainly, Harjo lets the landscape steer the story. Road dust and sun-flared car windows, wind moving through yellowed prairie, empty branches clawing the shuddering sky -- these hints of autumn abound. Much of the movie consists of road-trip montage (set to native songs and indie rock). The mood is melancholy, but not quite regretful. “I finally feel like I’m figuring it out,” says Frankie. “And, damn, I’m out the door.” It’s not a complaint or epiphany, just another observation as the miles click past.

 
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