Middle Row, Centre: Winter’s Bone Bleak, But Worth Watching

The Arts Film Series continues through the month of October at the Qwanlin Cinema, with three more films in what proves to be one of the best lineups for this series in a long time. The only trouble with the series is that it’s only offered on Sundays and Mondays, so moviegoers have to be on their toes not to miss any of the films on offer.

Playing Oct. 10 and 11 is Winter’s Bone. It’s an independent film that was an award-winner at both the Sundance and Berlin film festivals earlier this year, including an award for the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Picture Award at Sundance.

Director Debra Granik also won an award at Sundance for her 2004 film Down to the Bone, about a woman with a failing marriage and a secret drug habit.

Winter’s Bone has much to recommend it, most notably an outstanding performance from young Jennifer Lawrence, a relatively unknown actress with only minor TV roles to her credit previously.

She plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl grown beyond her years, struggling to survive in the hardscrabble Ozark Mountains countryside of southwestern Missouri. She is the sole caregiver for her two siblings, a younger brother and sister, since her mother is near-catatonic and her father has disappeared.

Jessup, the father, has a reputation in his largely impoverished community that is ruled by the local drug trade, as the best brewer of methamphetamine for some miles around. He has recently been released on bail from a prison term for plying his trade, but is nowhere to be seen.

The local sheriff informs Ree that Jessup put up the family’s house and surrounding property as collateral when his bail was posted. If he does not show up for his scheduled court appearance, the family will automatically lose their home.

Ree sets off on a journey through the Ozark backwoods, in an attempt to find out what has become of her father. She has heard rumours that he died in a meth-brewing accident, but she has nothing concrete to go on, and it’s her responsibility to prove that he is truly dead, or he’ll be considered to have merely jumped bail.

Quizzing neighbours and relatives in her tight-knit community proves to be largely fruitless. A code of silence prevails, as well as an overt hostility to anything to do with law enforcement. One neighbour tells her that poking around in the wrong places could get her killed, and another, refusing to talk, taciturnly warns her that “talking just causes witnesses.”

Her situation grows more desperate, but her resolve never falters, as Ree pursues her quest, facing stone-walled non-compliance, anger and even violence from the people she has previously regarded as her friends and neighbours.

Winter’s Bonewas filmed entirely on location in the Ozarks with a spare budget. It’s a bleak, uncompromising film, much like the country that it portrays. An air of foreboding prevails, matched only by the courage and silent strength of its protagonist, Ree Dolly. Although this is her first major role, Jennifer Lawrence is a name that may well become more prominent, as her next film appearance, in the upcoming The Beaver, will pair her with Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson.

Winter’s Bone plays Sunday, Oct. 10 at 5:00 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 11 at 7:00 p.m. at Qwanlin Cinema, and is rated R for drug use, drug dealing and profanity.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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