NZIFF ’10: Winter’s Bone

nziff ’10: Winter’s Bone
Dir. Debra Granik | USA | 2010 | 100 mins.

Debra Granik’s new film is an incredibly bleak, chilling story that’s part murder-mystery, part drama and part social commentary. Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell and set in the desolate, unforgiving Ozark woods in Missouri, the film is centred on a 17-year-old girl who, after her meth-addict father goes missing, is left to care for her two younger siblings and her sick mother, who is unwell to the point of being basically mute and all but incapacitated. Moreover, she sets out to track down her dad—a journey which is tougher than it should be because not only does no one want to help her find him, but they want to actively—and sometimes brutally—stop her from finding him. His disappearance becomes the fascination not only of his extended kin but of the local law enforcement, who plan to evict the now fatherless family from their home.

Granik’s previous film was 2004’s Down to the Bone, which, in the character of a mother trying to kick a drug habit, introduced the fantastically talented actress Vera Farmiga. Apart from extremely similar titles, the two films share a rawness and an deep investment in exposing the troubles of the downtrodden that isn’t shown much in cinema—save rarely for a film like Lance Hammer’s 2008 film Ballast, which chronicled the impact of a suicide on the lives of a semi-rural black community in the Mississippi delta.

The cinematography perfectly captures the barren landscape at its most devastating. In the lead role is a prodigiously gifted young actress by the name of Jennifer Lawrence; hers is one of the finest performances of the year so far—and she’s surrounded by an array of other brilliant actors, including John Hawkes (Me and You and Everyone We Know). Finally, as if the near derelict settings and intensely wrought performances weren’t already enough, the film contains a scene a thousand times more grizzly than the wood-chipper scene in Fargo.

Winter’s Bone will almost certainly be re-released at Rialto and similar cinemas.