Bones of Crows: Bearing the Soul, Bringing Your Voice

Dramatic films come and go. Some deal with social issues while others call us to maturity.

But some films leave a mark on your soul.

Directed by Marie Clements, Bones of Crows tells the story of Aline Spears (Grace Dove) and the trauma endured by her family over a century. After Aline is separated from her family, she is brought to a Canadian residential school where she faces systemic starvation, sexual abuse and racism. Growing up with the emotional scars of suffering, Aline attempts to heal as she empowers her family for the future.

Bones of Crows, Day 22, Vernon location Photographs by Derek Rodgers

Beginning with vibrancy in her palette, Clements drains the screen of colour as the children are taken from their homes and brought into the terrifying world of residential schools and the military. In doing so, she highlights the destructive nature of cultural erasure simply by how she lights a scene. Light and shadow take on the roles of good and evil and they do battle for the souls of Crows’ characters

There’s little doubt that a film of this nature is a difficult watch. Although the film isn’t graphic, the emotional weight of the film is soul-crushing. Within each scene, the tension feels palpable as characters have their life force stolen from them at the hands of racial oppression and abuse.

It’s also one of the best films of the year.

Bones of Crows, Day 4 Ayasew Ooskana Pictures

Performances are wonderful all around yet there’s little question that Dove anchors the film with her bravery. As a young woman who has been damaged by a system that cared more about its own motives than its people, Dove is positively fierce. Whether she’s struggling as a parent or standing up to the masculine world of the military, Dove’s passion for her identity remains inspirational and deserves recognition.

While it unpacks its onscreen traumas, Crows becomes a film about courage and survival. Told over 100 years, we bear witness as generation of these people are faced with every conceivable evil yet they still fight to speak. The more that they are cut down, the more that Aline and her family yearn to use their voice. This is not merely a story of abuse but also of resiliency and hope. By the time the film reaches its climactic confrontation with the Pope, the viewer wants to scream out with these characters in support. They have been through the worst of circumstances and, as compensation, they’re handed an apology.

Bones of Crows, Day 22, Vernon location Photographs by Derek Rodgers

But Bones of Crows wants to know if that’s enough.

In the end, Bones of Crows is not the type of film that one will want to watch with friends for a night of fun and drama. Instead, this is a film that will confront the viewer with the horrors of history. But it also demands our attention. Always serious and focused, Crows understands the cries of a people who have had their voices stolen from them. But, almost as importantly, it also leans into the future and yearns to find a way forward.

To hear our conversation with director Marie Clement, Grace Dove and Alyssa Wapanatahk from TIFF 2022, click here.

Bones of Crows is available in theatres on Friday, June 2nd, 2023.

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