WINTER'S BONE arrived in the UK from Sundance and Berlin covered in praise for its strong central performances and gritty portrayal of middle-American rural poverty.
The heroine of the film is seventeen-year old Ree Dolly played with impressive authority and conviction by Jennifer Lawrence. Ree is the daughter of an absent felon father and mentally ill mother, and has been forced to take on the parenting of her younger brother and sister. This involves a delicate balance of learning how to live on scraps and handouts without losing a sense of pride. This fragile existence is put under threat when bail bondsmen threaten to seize Ree’s house and woods unless she can find her father and bring him to jail. One could almost regard the search for the father as a MacGuffin – an excuse for the Ree to take us on a journey into the wider community. Because that’s what this film ultimately is – an excuse to explore a community full of adults that have responded to the lack of economic opportunity in the Ozarks, and turned to drug-using, drug-dealing and violence. Every single adult Ree turns to for help refuses to take the responsibility befitting an adult. And while, to spoil the ending, she does ultimately keep her house – and there is palpable relief that she won’t be separated from her brother and sister – that relief is ultimately false. Because we leave Ree in exactly the same position that we found her in at the start of the movie – living in poverty, forced into maturity before her time, and martyring herself for her family. We’ve basically just seen a young girl literally beaten to a pulp in her fight to stand still – just maintain.
So, WINTER'S BONE is no pleasure-ride, but it is an impressively made and well-acted movie, and that gives a certain pleasure of its own. By persuading the people from Ozarks to let her use their houses, and to appear as extras and minor characters, director Debra Granik imbues her film with a rarely seen sense of authenticity and sympathy. To be crude, even when viewed from the comparative luxury of your art-house cinema seat, this film never feels like poverty-porn. Is the movie flawless? No. I found the black-and-white animated dream sequence gauche and what should have played as a grimly horrific scene on a river was so over-the-top I laughed. Nonetheless, this is a powerful film – a film that creates and sustains a menacing tone, and that contains fleeting glimpses of genuine familial tenderness in the most unforgiving of circumstances.
WINTER'S BONE played Berlin 2010 where it won the CICAE Award and the Reader Jury Prize of hte Tagesspiegel. It also played Sundance 2010 where it won the Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. It was released earlier this year in the US and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in France on November 3rd.