Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon, Certain Women) has had quite a year. She’s the front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in a Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Hugo) film. She was marching with her union SAG-AFTRA when that film debuted. And while she’s only now starting the promotional tour for Killers of the Flower Moon, she was promoting her underseen road drama The Unknown Country thanks to an interim agreement during that strike. I reviewed the film earlier this year during its theatrical run, and I’m thrilled to do so again for its Blu-ray release.
It bears repeating that even without Killers of the Flower Moon, this film would be a case for Gladstone’s awards chances. Her performance is subtle and charming, and her internal emotional work in scenes such as she shares with Ray Whitman (Winter in the Blood, Four Sheets to the Wind) is world-class. Her performance as Tana, an Indigenous woman whose grandmother has just passed, whom she spent the last few years taking care of, elevates the film, but it’s not all that’s at play in this above-average indie.
The film is beautifully shot in anamorphic widescreen and its home release looks even better than it did as a Vimeo screener for my previous review. Where before 3-4 low-light shots struggled on a compressed stream, the Blu-ray only had visible banding on my Sony XBR-65X850D 4K TV and LG-UBK90 4K Blu-ray player (region free) in one scene, a marked improvement, and understandable for a film of this budget, which easily looks twice as what it was. With an OLED TV, it’s likely to be even less noticeable.
One of the year’s better independent features, The Unknown Country is a great film and re-watch, all about the resilience of youth and community in the face of disaster and grief, and its Blu-ray is not only very good, but incredibly interesting as well.
As a film centered on the modern Indigenous experience but directed by a white woman, the marketing for The Unknown Country’s theatrical run rightfully focused on Lily Gladstone and Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, who both acted in the film and influenced the film’s story to the degree that director Morrisa Maltz (Ingrid) referred to the filmmaking process as “collective authorship.” However, while this physical release still focuses on Gladstone and Bearkiller Shangreaux, it also adds space to the narrative of the film’s production to make something clear:
Morrisa Maltz is a titan of the craft in the making.
Here’s what’s in the release:
- Reversible box art on a clear standard-sized Blu-ray case. The standard art is built around the poster art on the front, and a film still on the back. The reversible side is based on the end of the film. Both showcase the film’s accolades with different pull quotes.
- Usually not worth mentioning these days, this is one of the most enjoyable menus to leave running in a long time. Pairing the film’s most effervescent shots with a loop of the film’s credit song, “Dark Streets” by Dyan, all under a slick and modern UI.
- The disc has autoplay trailers for fellow Music Box releases, Fremont (2023), My Sailor My Love (2022), The Road Dance (2021), and The Story of Film: A New Generation (2021).
- Feature Commentary by Lily Gladstone, director Morrisa Maltz, and editor Vanara Taing
- Oozing comradery and personal stories, it’s clear these three artists are friends, making this a solid entry in the hang-out commentary canon.
- Includes more information on Tana’s multiracial backstory, the origin of Gladstone’s iconic whale joke, and other sweet behind-the-scenes stories.
- The Unknown Country: An exploratory filmmaking process – 1 hr 7 mins
- A Mind the Gap / Behind the Scenes panel at Mill Falley Film Festival 45. In conversation: Morrisa Maltz, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Lily Gladstone, and Vanara Taing. Moderated by Osinachi Ibe.
- Easily the prettiest-looking panel discussion I’ve seen as a physical release extra. Shot outside on the farm, with great outdoor audio and the sun streaming in from the corner, it’s gorgeous. So uncommon and very appreciated.
- Topics include “collective authorship,” Gladstone’s real life informing the improv, Bearkiller’s test footage, Maltz directing Gladstone’s Billions (2016-2023) audition tape, and financing independent films.
- Director Q& A – Chicago Critic’s Film Festival – 25 mins
- Maltz talks about the film after a screening. Topics include how she met Bearkiller Shangreaux, Agnes Varda (Faces Places, The Young Girls of Rochefort), why she recorded a library of radio broadcasts, and her early process with Gladstone.
- Odyssea (2014) short film – 11 min 46 sec
- Starting off with archival documentary footage like you’d expect from Maltz, the film quickly shifts to the surreal in tone and performance, even the color grading evoking the famous rose shot from Blue Velvet (1986). A hidden gem, it was nominated for the Slamdance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, Best Narrative Short in 2014.
- “Looking for Knives” music video by Dyan
- A woman runs through a decrepit house in a well-edited video for the film’s key song.
- Photo Gallery
- Instead of the usual on-set promo stills or posters, this includes Maltz’s film photos taken in 2016 on the road when the idea of the film was forming. Includes photos through 2020, then wraps up with a pocketful of set photos from the closing sequence of the film. Photos 8, 9, 14, and 15 are standouts. Half of the film is in those four stills. The rest came from Bearkiller and Gladstone.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still excellent, and the inclusion of the woman who sounds like Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Fitzcarraldo) is still funny and surprising.
Odyessea’s inclusion in this release re-introduces the world to Maltz’s surprising range, bridging her visible talent from The Unknown Country’s naturalism to Lynchian surrealism and technical mastery. Its inclusion in this disc makes the case that she is one of the rare “undiscovered” artists ready to explode into the culture if given the right resources. This year has seen Lily Gladstone finally get her due with the release of Killers of the Flower Moon, and this disc leaves you hoping that Maltz and Bearkiller’s next film, currently in progress, will bring them theirs.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD November 21st, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Music Box Films The Unknown Country webpage.