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When their absentee father dies, Johnny feels compelled to strike out for a new life in LA, but fears leaving his sister behind with their remorsefully hard-drinking mother and her latest bad-news boyfriend.
The restrained performances and luscious location photography are enough to make this a film worth exploring, though it might not be a bad idea to down a few caffeine-rich drinks before settling in to watch.
An outsider looking in voyeurism veering offensively close to being more about the filmmaker's fixation on her immigrant alienation - if not a blatant exotic poverty porn aesthetic - than the brutal internal isolation of her subjects absent of causality.
In Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Zhao and her team have created an emotionally compelling neo-realist portrait of a family and their community experiencing the stresses and pressures of post-colonial life.
Because her laissez-faire approach makes little effort to fit the fragmentary scenes into a tidy portrait of reservation life, "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" feels more authentic than if she had chosen to impose a tighter structure.
A moseying tour of life on the Lakota reservation, circa right now: the empty beauty of the badlands, the ancient struggle with alcohol, and the persistent push of youth to make good and make sense of a bad old world that somehow keeps hope alive.