‘Jazzy’ Review: Morrisa Maltz’s Luminous Drama Shares a Sensitive Vision of Girlhood

Tribeca 2024: Lily Gladstone reprises her role in the filmmaker’s “The Unknown Country” follow-up, shot over the course of six years

jazzy
Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux and Syriah Foohead Means in "Jazzy" (Courtesy Tribeca)

Film festivals — especially ones as sprawling as the Tribeca Festival — offer an abundance of delights. But at heart, they exist in large part so we can discover movies like the ones Morrisa Maltz makes.

In 2022, she premiered a quiet road trip tale called “The Unknown Country” at South by Southwest. That film helped introduce its gifted star, Lily Gladstone, to a much wider audience. Hopefully, “Jazzy” will do the same for Maltz herself.

A gorgeous meditation on girlhood, “Jazzy” picks up where “The Unknown Country” left off, to focus on the child who bonded with Gladstone’s character as she explored her Oglala Lakota heritage. Filmed over the course of six years, Maltz captures Jazzy (Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreaux) and her best friend Syriah (Syriah Foohead Means) between the ages of eight and thirteen.

There aren’t many big moments in “Jazzy”; as enhanced by Andrew Hajek’s luminous cinematography, this is a determinedly intimate and understated film. In fact, it’s so naturalistic that some viewers may wonder if it’s a documentary. Though Maltz cowrote the script with Hajek, co-editor Vanara Taing, and Jazzy’s mother, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, they also relied heavily on ongoing input from the kids.

Maltz uses Neil Halstead and Alexis Marsh’s lovely score judiciously; often, there’s no sound other than the girls’ crunching footprints in the snow, or Jazzy’s baby sister crying, or an after-school recorder practice turning into an adorably off-key improvisation.

Similarly Hajek’s camera patiently sits back to watch them walk around the South Dakota mobile home park where they live, and listen to them talk about any and everything. “Being a kid is the best because we don’t have to worry about all the stuff,” says Jazzy. “I would love to stay a kid forever,” Syriah responds.

The stuff, however, is always on the edges. The boys in their class boast about fake, flawless girlfriends. Jazzy’s mom sounds perpetually harried. (Thoughtful editing from Taing and Laura Colwell leaves the adults unseen until Gladstone’s late arrival). And eventually, Syriah’s family will have to move away.

But although Maltz is fully aware of the hardships facing the girls as they grow, she has the wisdom to celebrate the elations with equal enthusiasm. Their freeform conversations are both nonsensical and insightful; quicksilver emotions splay continually across their faces.

Their openness, and consequent vulnerability, is wrenching. But so too is their joy, and Maltz ensures there’s plenty of it. The girls don’t just love each other, they are genuinely happiest together. And even when grownup decisions impact them indelibly, they adjust and adapt.

At 80 minutes, the film is both leisurely paced and fully packed, so that when it ends we’ve spent the perfect amount of time with these beautiful girls. At least for now — “Jazzy” also feels like a prelude to the next stage in their lives, which we can only hope to share.

“Jazzy” does not currently have distribution.

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