Mekko (2015)

CAIFF Movie Review

Jeffrey Davis, Photographer


Grandmother’s voice warns of a spiritual sickness, over images of an evacuated Muskogee town.

“Mekko,” written and directed by Sterlin Harjo, follows the middle-aged titular character’s release back into society after a 19-year prison sentence. Outcast by his family for reasons not yet known, his trail leads him to where the homeless made a home in the streets and alleyways of Tulsa, OK.

The film’s deliberate pace meanders with Mekko’s (Rod Rondeaux) interactions within the First Nations community. The film’s personification of evil, Bill (Zahn McClarnon), terrorizes the camaraderie through aggression and intimidation. Addiction complicates this further; Mekko practices sobriety in a space of oppressive substance abuse, perpetrated by Bill, the drug addicted would-be warrior.

Other supporting cast members include Tafv (Sarah Podemski), a welcoming diner waitress, Bunny (Wotko Long), an old friend who acquaints him to the town and Allen (Tre Harjo), a homeless college dropout. With the film driven by dialogue and character, Rondeaux’s performance of soft-spoken Mekko radiates immense sincerity, allowing a genuine range of organic conversations and emotions among the cast of small town business owners and street dwellers.

Bill’s tangible darkness pervades throughout the film, combating with Mekko’s struggling redemption. An abstract darkness of witches and spirits loom in the atmosphere as well.

Mekko (translation: Chief) declares against Bill, “I know you like I know myself.”

Both Mekko and Bill, burdened with the weight of the generations that came before them, come to represent the two opposite sides of the same coin—the forces of good and evil. Exemplified by a beautifully crafted montage, Mekko speaks with Bunny on the river shore about the preservation of the human spirit as the film cuts back and forth to Bill killing and harming.

The small problem of Bill’s emphatic villainy is dampened in the clear expression of the overall moral dichotomy within the story. That clarity reaches a satisfying violent climax of sanctification at the film’s end. Harjo’s neorealism combined with folklore lends to a grounded, yet surreal powerful commentary on contemporary Native American conditions.