It isn’t easy to get through “The Unknown Country,” but only because it feels like a failed experimental film project. I struggled to find meaning in this hybrid movie that is part narrative fiction and part documentary. There isn’t much structure at all, and it seems like even writer / director Morrisa Maltz had no idea where she wanted this story to go. It feels vague and incomplete, and is a chore to watch.
Tana (Lily Gladstone) receives an invitation to reunite with her estranged Oglala Lakota family. She hits the road from the Midwest, driving down to Texas and the border of Mexico. Alone and unsure of her final destination, Tana encounters a diverse and mildly interesting assortment of Americans, sharing their stories along her journey. She bonds with strangers in between long stretches of quiet isolation behind the wheel of her car.
The film offers a glimpse at present day Native American culture and traditions of the past, all important to Tana’s personal story. She’s adrift in life and the world, simply seeking a place where she feels like she belongs.
There’s not enough story to carry this film, and only a few of the real life subjects are charming enough to want to spend time with. “The Unknown Country” is aimless and directionless, drifting through its own existence.