' Cinema Romantico: Winter's Bone

Monday, June 21, 2010

Winter's Bone

At the center of Debra Granik's Sundance award winner, out now in theaters in selected cities, stands 17 year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence, who in a perfect world - ha! - would already have Oscar pundits buzzing). The spare images that open the film perfectly summarize her situation. She has dropped out of school to tend to her younger brother and sister because her mother is "sick", long gone mentally, and her father, a noted meth cooker, is in prison. Then the story kicks in. The sheriff turns up at their house and advises Ree her father has been released from prison by using the house to post his bond. He now has to turn himself in by the end of the week. If not, the house will be taken. This is a problem because her father seems to have vanished. If the house is taken, where do Ree, her mother and her siblings go? And so to prevent this she must find her father. This is the engine that drives "Winter's Bone", written by Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on Daniel Woodrell's novel. Ree Dolly is a character driven by desperation.


She morphs into an Ozarkian Nancy Drew, combing the perpetually gray backwoods, talking to friends and family, all who look as world weary as her, in an attempt to glean a lead, any lead. Few, like Teardrop (John Hawkes, even skinnier and more sickly than usual), Ree's dad's brother, seem willing to help, if only because they know what will happen if they do. No one can be trusted. "I thought blood was supposed to mean something," declares Ree. Apparently not.

The film is a triumph of langauge. The cadences sound real, unrehearsed, often uneducated, but often suggest something bigger, a rural tragedy perhaps. "Talking accounts for witnesses and he don't want none of those." A glimmer of a scene between Ree and an Army recruiter is pieced together perfectly, bringing into tight focus the world where this movie exists and the world where it doesn't.

The look of the film is a triumph. It may be technically considered an "indie" and while there are a few handheld shots here and there even then the camera fails to wobble. It is classic filmmaking in the lo fi sense. You will be immersed in the chill, sense the wet leaves crunching beneath your feet, get the willies from the various shabby shacks into which Ree treads. It conjures up that line Sandy Powell had at this year's Oscars: "I’d like to dedicate this to the costume designers that don’t do movies about dead monarchs or glittery musicals. The designers that do the low-budget ones." Nothing here feels fake.

But, most importantly, the film is a triumph of storytelling. It is basic but elegant, never over-embellishing, never railing about socio-economic "points". "Winter's Bone" is about Ree - who is featured in every scene -trying to find her father to save her family and not a thing more. Her decisions make it move. It is two hours of real life cinematic power. And it is the sort of movie from which one would benefit a great deal seeing fairly cold and so of it I will say no more except to say this: The gauntlet, movie fans, has been thrown down.

Note the time in the log. Cinema Romantico has seen the first great movie of 2010.

1 comment:

Simon said...

Excellent review. I can't wait till this is released here.