Non Western review – heartfelt reflection on marriage and Native American identity

Thaddeus and Nanci, the subjects of Laura Plancarte’s intimate documentary, make for an idiosyncratic couple. While the bubbly Nanci has a natural, charismatic openness, Thaddeus is much more elusive and reserved. Still, their differences run deeper than a matter of contrasting personalities. Thaddeus, born into the Northern Cheyenne tribe, was removed from his Native American community at a young age. Meanwhile, Nanci, who is white, grew up on a Lakota reservation.

Despite the differences in their backgrounds, what Nanci and Thaddeus do share – apart from their love for each other – is a difficult childhood, marred by domestic abuse and financial precariousness – the same stories of disenfranchisement that ripple through generations of Native Americans living in Montana. Conversations that Thaddeus and Nanci have with their friends and neighbours make free mention of suicide and addiction, spoken with a tragic matter-of-factness.

These intergenerational traumas form a wedge between the pair as they prepare for their wedding. Thaddeus wants Nanci to adhere to the traditional roles of a Northern Cheyenne woman; this means leaving all the household domestic responsibilities to her. On the other hand, Nanci, who has a PhD and works at a university, feels sorely burdened by these expectations. Still, while Thaddeus’s attitude is outdated, the film as well as Nanci don’t make simple judgment calls – both acknowledge that such mindsets stem from an innate need to cling to one’s disappearing heritage.

While several of Plancarte’s stylistic choices are at times odd, including an on-the-nose inclusion of Ben Rogers’s Cowboys and Indians tune, the film is a heartfelt ode to the resilience of love that can triumph over differences.

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