Monday, 4 April 2011

Winter's Bone, Debra Granik, USA 2010

One of the few - positive - upshots of the recent credit crunch and subsequent depression is that it gave birth to a string of films that deal with the flipside of the American dream, among them are Welcome to the Rileys, The Fighter, or indeed Winter's Bone.

Winter's Bone revolves around 17-year old Ree, who takes care of her two siblings and a depression-stricken mother while struggling to hang on to their house which Ree's father put up for his bail. Much of the story of Winter's Bone reminded me of a modern-day version of The Third Man since similar to Carol Reed's classic, in Winter's Bone, too, the film's central character - or rather, the elephant in the room: Ree's father - never shows and you're never quite sure whether he actually does exist or not, and if so, in what physical shape and condition ... This is, of course, the only difference between the two films, and not meaning to spoil things for those who have yet to see the Granik's film I won't give away any details regarding the whereabouts of Ree's father. Moreover, even though much depends on Ree having to find Jessup, her father, it is not the main point of the film for Winter's Bone is decidedly not a thriller, notwithstanding the fact that Ree's hunt for Jessup does keep the viewer on tenterhooks, but more so as an undercurrent rather than as the film's leitmotif. Winter's Bone is all about the struggle for sheer survival by Ree in the face of a relentlessly adverse and hostile world, which has all but forgotten about its disenfranchised inhabitants who have little left but the wretched, run-down, houses they live in and the handful of drugs to keep them going, making them forget about the misery that surrounds them.

Given its theme, Winter's Bone is by definition a rather bleak film. It is to Granik's credit that she managed to shirk any sentimentality which a film that revolves around a teenage girl who has no one but herself to rely on, would have lent itself to all too easily. That Winter's Bone does nevertheless end on a somewhat upbeat note may strike some viewers as unrealistic or too laboured. However, it struck me as a much needed and well-deserved dose of serendipity on Ree's part, restoring at least some of the faith in life and mankind you're likely to lose over the course of the film.