Monthly Archives: September 2010

Showing at the Showroom: Winter’s Bone

Cold.

It may seem simplemindedly daft to describe a film called Winter’s Bone as cold, (like calling rain wet) but unshakingly that’s what lingers long after having seen the film. The dry, cold, pale sunlight of winter at its coldest, the chill that cuts right to, well, your bones. Not to pile the adjectives one on top the other, but Winter’s Bone stirs the sense-memory in a way that very few, very brilliant films do. It’s the kind of thing which makes a film linger, something more than just another yarn of another plucky individual in the face of inevitable adversity.

To get to the yarn itself, Winter’s Bone is set in the rural Ozarks of Southwestern Missouri, and follows the tale of Ree, a teenage girl old beyond her years, left to rear two siblings in spite of her strangely catatonic mother. Their absent crank-cooking father has put the family’s house deed down as bail, and having skipped his day in court the family now faces eviction if he can’t be found. Ree strikes out to track him down, but in a tight-knit, on the brink of feudin’ family community finding someone willing to grass the old man in isn’t going to happen.

This is a society unto itself, where your kin and ‘doin’ right by your folk’ far outweighs the influence and standing of the utterly feckless lawmen. On occasion the film skirts the Appalachian clichés so deeply entrenched by the now monolithic Deliverance, but short of some boss-eyed duelling banjos, Winter’s Bone frames the community without caricature or condescension.

It’s no exaggeration to say the young actress Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Ree carries the whole picture, refusing to resign herself to a situation far beyond her control, persisting when every man and his dog tells her to give up. Not to discredit the otherwise superb supporting cast, but in a character study such as this it’s the leading lady that matters, and Lawrence more than lives up to the task.

For all the tension of the tale, I still can’t shake off the literal feel of chill that the film evoked. It’s anything but emotionally cold, and it isn’t bleak in the way the poverty-line setting might suggest. It’s a community of two worlds; the isolation of the outdoors, the lone bubble of Ree’s puffer jacket struggling to find some answers, contrasted by the warm community of the family which resides in the living rooms of every house. These enclaves of family are carefully guarded, and often each person demonstrably waits until invited across the threshold by the head of the household. You respect these boundaries, and the code it represents, and the drama comes in Ree having to break this code to keep a roof over her head. It’s a simple conceit, but the heart of the film.

I really shouldn’t bang on about how freezing the film felt, as it’s a really tight drama in its own right. Just bring a jumper, because I honestly regret that I didn’t.

Four out of Five.

Winter’s Bone is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 17th of September 2010

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Showing at the Showroom: Certified Copy

Certified Copy shouldn’t work. The sum just can’t be greater than its constituent parts. It shouldn’t even get out of the starting gate, let alone get off the ground.

We all have our preconceptions and prejudices going into certain films, and for my sins I can’t shake off a certain sniffiness about both Juliet Binoche and the cloyingly middle-aged, middle-class francophone (af)fair she’s unremmitingly tied to. I’m unjustly throwing her in with recent films like Leaving and The Father of My Children, where the trailers haven’t sold me on the film being anything more than the same old document of French folk, their existential ennui and the ineventiable infidelity which follows.

On the surface at least, Certified Copy seemed to be clanging this cliché both loud and proud, but despite veering off in said direction the film rather deftly skims the surface of the matter, and manages to remain compelling throughout.

In brief: Anxious Mother of One pursues visiting Silver-Haired Scholar, who indulges her doting fan-boyism by agreeing to meet her privately the next day. Awkward introductions lead to an escape to the beautiful Tuscan landscape they happen to be surrounded by. Cue a seemingly never-ending series of unflinching shot/reverse-shot discussions on love/life/art, and the meaning of ‘it all.’

Synopsised the film sounds absolutely agonising, but Binoche is well met by the breezy William Shimell, a renowned baritone making his screen debut. Their nascent if unsure connection skips over the awkwardness and dives straight into the failures of their own personal relationships, without respite hitting the guaranteed dead-weight topics of love, marriage and everything inbetween.

Breaking for a coffee Shimell gets mistaken by a local for Binoche’s husband, and distanced from the overly critical Italians this new/old pairing carry on the pretence before gliding defty into some rather heavy and shouty domestics. They argue like a married couple of 20+ years, the confidence and assumption of a twinkling love turned into a pitch black bitterness wondering where it all went. You sit expecting someone to snap out of the charade, to call shenanigans on the whole thing. But they don’t, and somehow I got carried along with it all.

I know others in my company weren’t quite as sold on it, but I don’t know how, or even why, but somehow inspite of myself, and inspite of itself, Certified Copy managed to completely hook me in. Maybe I’m just a sucker for walking-and-talking romances, the intimate-stranger dynamic we’ve seen trodden so thoroughly in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Maybe it’s the bizarre to-fro, push-pull dynamic between Binoche and Shimell which keeps the film afloat.

It’s just another French infidelty drama, of sorts. On paper it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, and that alone makes it a little bit of brilliant. 

Four out of Five.

Certified Copy is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 3rd of September 2010

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