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FALLS AROUND HER: 3 ½ STARS. “Cardinal’s performance dominates the film.”

Tantoo Cardinal has been acting for forty years, building up a resume heavy with dozens of film and television credits like “Dances with Wolves,” “Black Robe,” “Legends of the Fall” and cult favourite “Smoke Signals.” Her latest film, “Falls Around Her,” is a career landmark, her first solo lead in a feature film. After watching the Northern Ontario-set drama you’ll wonder why it took so long to put her front and center.

Renowned Anishinaabe musician Mary Birchbark (Cardinal) is at a professional and personal crossroad. Exhausted and feeling career burn out she returns to the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation in northern Ontario to recharge her depleted batteries; to reconnect with friends, family and the land. Unfortunately, the solitary she hoped for is elusive. She hears noises outside her cabin and has the feeling someone or something from her past is lurking outside.

“Falls Around Her” is a tale of resilience. When we first meet Mary she’s disconnected from the very things that ground her. As she slowly takes back her life, easing out of the road work and a new show in a new town every night, she opens herself to rediscovering what is really important, family, friends, being happy. She is not a victim. She’s in control, putting past trauma in the rearview mirror. Cardinal is a living breathing embodiment of Mary’s renewal. Her performance dominates the film, a fiery mix of experience, hurt and joy. It’s remarkable work, done with a minimum of dialogue, that presents one of the most complex and interesting characters in recent memory.

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