I see a lot of movies, and unfortunately, many leave my mind as soon as I’ve written the last word of the review. Those that linger do so for the same reasons as everyone: either I loved it or I hated it. But occasionally a film comes along that crawls inside your subconscious, quite literally altering you from within. It’s the highest level of compliment, I’d imagine, to know one’s art has instigated a transformative experience. The first movie of 2010 to accomplish this for me is Winter’s Bone.
Set in the completely unfamiliar (to me) territory of the Ozarks in Missouri, the movie tells the story of a 17-year-old girl, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), tasked with taking care of her young brother and sister and her mentally ill mother. Her father, involved with the flourishing meth industry that’s completely ravaged remote and isolated communities throughout North America, puts the house up as his bond when he’s arrested and then disappears. Ree’s tense journey to find him is harrowing and mesmerizing.
What struck me immediately after leaving the screening was that this felt like the first time in recent memory a young woman was depicted with brains and courage, and that she used these traits to negotiate her way out of tough spots, rather than T&A. I had an opportunity to talk about this with Winter’s Bone writer/director Debra Granick, as well as what motivates her as a filmmaker. I hope you enjoy our exchange as much as I did.
Andrea: Ree’s character is the kind of strong female role that seems to not come along very often in film. Was it important for you to tell that story?
Debra: It’s so refreshing and interesting and basically comforting to see this kind of female protagonist…I don’t get to see enough female protagonists using a whole bunch of what they’ve got.
Andrea: And, honestly, young people don’t get a fair shake in most films.
Debra: It makes me want to do more that depict films in that demographic. Not coming of age stories exclusively. So many people don’t get the luxury of the so-called coming of age in that way.
Debra: One thing that attracts us to neo-realist films is photography of everyday life and usually from places we haven’t had a chance to experience personally. Like, I can’t believe I was just allowed to see inside some one’s apartment in Taipei, or a factory, or a food court. And then how this person does the night and what that’s like. Not that I believe everything I’m seeing is actual documentation, but in the wide shot I’m seeing the street life. And turning the camera on your own country…When I go back I have to tell people, ‘Well, we tried squirrel, we tried deer, and it wasn’t exotic, it wasn’t a funky weird transgressive diner serving folk food. It was a very pragmatic, ordinary experience.’ And those are the kinds of things that happen when you go to a place you’re not familiar with.
Andrea: This might sound a bit stupid, but I definitely felt that after leaving your film, that I was suddenly aware of this completely other existence.
Debra: It’s exciting, even in the choices people make in the way they decorate their rooms. I went up to [the house across the yard from the one we were shooting in] and she took me up these rickety stairs to her bedroom and it was so unexpected. There were maybe 250 spirit catchers hanging from the ceiling and it looked like the rafters of a barn, and I was just curious, like why she was attracted to them, why she collected them. People’s choices, you can’t predict them. I couldn’t have sat in New York and written, you know, Interior House Day: 250 dream catchers. Those kind of visual journeys do excite me.
Watch the trailer from Winter’s Bone:
All photos courtesy of MaplePictures.com
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