With the continued underrepresentation of Canada’s Indigenous population in the public eye, a film like Before the Streets is a cause for celebration. Set entirely within Quebec’s three Atikamekw communities, with almost all of the dialogue in the Atikamekw language, director Chloé Leriche’s debut feature ensconces us in a world that we typically see far too little of. Now that it’s nominated in several categories at the upcoming Canadian Screen Awards (including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor), you’ll surely be hearing a lot more.

Shawnouk (Rykko Bellemare) is a carefree young man who spends his days hanging around with his sister and his friends, looking for ways to reduce the boredom of reserve life. When he gets involved in a hare-brained robbery scheme, however, he ends up a killing a man in self-defence. With guilt and fear weighing down on him, as well as his policeman stepfather on his trail, Shawnouk flees to the woods and his Atikamekw village to cleanse himself through traditional rituals.

While the mechanics of the story aren’t that unfamiliar, the immersion in this community is transfixing. Using non-professional actors, Leriche captures incredibly naturalistic performances from the entire cast, evoking the sense that life is just unfolding before your eyes. The ritual scenes in the third act, meanwhile, possess a calm and controlled visual poetry.

As tensions between Shawnouk and his stepfather rise, some of the domestic drama admittedly feels a little clunky and conventional. But this narrative is really just a gateway to a larger meditation on our connection to the natural world.

Is Before the Streets essential festival viewing?

Yes, definitely. Before the Streets is a strong and assured debut from a promising filmmaker to watch.

Before the Streets screening times

Before the Streets Trailer