Director/Writer/Dop: Sean Meehan | Producer: Sam McGarry | Cast: Gerald Auger, Martin Dubreuil and Morris Birdyellowhead.
In mid-1800’s Russian America, Subienkow finds himself the second-to-last survivor of a group of Russian fur-thieves who have just been defeated by liberators from the local tribe they have enslaved as forced labour. Now Subienkow faces a long, protracted and painful death unless he can come up with a plan for escape.
Sean Meehan’s Lost Face has already (at this time of writing) taken home thirty awards, twenty nominations and was selected for over seventy film festivals. Now if that’s not a glowing track record paved for even more successes in the future (maybe a longlist in the Oscars?) it’s still an impressively strong entry into cinema’s fickle but increasingly diverse independent market.
Adapted from Jack London’s much-loved classic short story of the same name, Lost Face is a vivid showcase reminiscent of the sharp 2016 Oscar-nominated film (and the film that won Leonardo Dicaprio his long-awaited first Oscar as Lead Male) The Revenant. If you are unfamiliar with London’s story, Meehan’s film is bravely faithful to it’s source.
It tells the story of Subienkow (Martin Dubreuil) a European adventurer who, upon seeing the gruesome and drawn out slaughter of his men, is determined not to go the same way and makes a somewhat ludicrous but seemingly innocuous wager for his life.
With regard to its title, Lost Face initially appears to be set up as a story of a battle of wits between Subienkow and Indian Chief leader, Makamuk (Gerald Auger).
However there’s a delightful reveal if you pay attention two thirds in, and even if the audience figures this out before it happens, the pay off is still deftly entertaining. A testament, no doubt, to London’s original – which is packed with backstory and subtext that, expectedly, can not be explored in a short film. But in spite of a limited budget and limited time, Meehan still successfully translates a permeable layer of sardonicism and bleakness, that unapologetically works to hold up its predecessor. This was never a story meant to exploits or mock Native American history or indigenous issues – but like the source text, the film holds a mirror up to a history of manipulation and duplicity so frustratingly dismissed when looking at colonialism and displacement.
The casting* is on point here, for all the discourse surrounding the tedious problems of whitewashing – the casting of American Natives has perhaps, and ironically, been the least one of contention (if you don’t count Taylor Lautner’s turn in the Vampire/Werewolf series, Twilight.) But it’s Dubreuil’s turn as the quick-thinking Russian fur-tradesman Subienkow, who really owns the film. It’s a role of seduction and mind games – an ambiguous and largely unreadable performance, in the best way. Leading the audience who don’t know what is to come, left waiting in the dark until the end. And that alone is a too often an overlooked treat, when it comes to film.
*Special mention to the brilliant Morris Birdyellowhead, as Yakaga – Makamuk’s untrusting, and verbally opposed fellow.