An unexpected homecoming becomes a mystery story in Falls Around Her, a movie marking the first lead film role for Tantoo Cardinal in her 48-year career.

It’s one of two suspensers featuring the Cree and Métis actress that are opening this week, the other being Don McKellar’s Through Black Spruce. It’s been a great year for Cardinal, who had several films premiere at TIFF 2018 that are now coming to theatres. (The Grizzlies opens April 19.)

Falls Around Her is written and directed by Darlene Naponse of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation community near Sudbury. The wild and remote beauty of the location figures prominently in the drama.

Cardinal’s character Mary Birchbark is a celebrated musician from that same community, who finds it hard to return to home when life on the road in southern cities like Toronto no longer appeals.

Tina Keeper plays Cardinal’s meddlesome sister Betty. There are bothersome men, too: Rob Stewart is Mary’s manager, unhappy she’s quit music and touring; Johnny Issaluk is a former beau who seems to want to change “former” to “current.”

Mary’s past won’t leave her alone, much to her dismay. People keep asking her why she left music. Her answer is uncertain, but she clearly craves silence and restoration — and she’s determined to have her way, no matter what anybody thinks.

“I just need to cut off for a while,” she says. A mining company, a major polluter of local waters, threatens to disturb Mary’s quest for peace. Even more disquieting is the persistent dread that someone may be watching her — but who and for what reason?

The all-too-brief scene where we actually see Cardinal perform as a musician proves yet again how her talent and personal magnetism crosses many artistic disciplines.

She has a supporting role in Through Black Spruce, working alongside Graham Greene as they play vagabond chums of Annie and Suzanne Bird, twin sisters who are central to the film’s missing-woman drama.

Director McKellar (Last Night) carefully negotiates the movie’s split narrative, told from viewpoints in two distinct Ontario locales, Moosonee and Toronto. Screenwriter Barbara Samuels (North of 60) adapts the Giller Prize-winning novel by Joseph Boyden, whose claim to being of Indigenous blood has since been challenged.

But the movie stands on its own merits, as a simmering whodunit where plot basics are secondary to personalities, thanks to a superb cast.

First and foremost: Tanaya Beatty as Annie, a Cree woman seeking the truth about what happened to her model sister Suzanne in Toronto; and Brandon Oakes as Annie’s Uncle Will, an alcoholic bush pilot back home in Moosonee who is struggling to recover from a coma — the result of an attack — and also the bitter legacy of Canada’s residential school system.

Cardinal, Greene and Tina Keeper, meanwhile, simply remind us of their abundant talents.

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