Past Tense

A middle-aged man fights for his life in Barking Water

Even though he's terminally ill, Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman), a middle-aged Native American with a troubled past, checks out of the hospital one afternoon with his ex-wife Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek) and piles into her Volvo station wagon for a trip across Oklahoma to see his daughter and granddaughter before he dies. Though they're not officially back together, Frankie and Irene have reestablished a strong friendship that's now strictly platonic. They still get on each other's nerves, particularly when Frankie wants to listen to the same song over and over on the car radio. But there's a newfound peace between them, now that they're older and wiser.

During their journey, they meet a real cast of characters. They have breakfast with Irene's homeboy nephews who act like a couple of hoodlums, even though they mean well. They have a run-in with a local farmer who initially tries to kick them off his property before realizing Frankie is sick. He then shares a joint with them because he thinks it will help Frankie feel better. And they receive a mixtape of indie-rock tunes from a young couple who hitch a ride.

Writer-director Sterlin Harjo clearly aims to represent the postmodern Native-American experience. Frankie and Irene cling to a few traditions but they're the exception rather than the rule. In fact, they could be any couple that has been through a rough patch and wants to sustain some semblance of a relationship. Still, the slow-moving film has a poignancy to it that's amplified by its terrific soundtrack which features songs by Samantha Crain, Bombadil and Paleface.

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