Monday, April 4, 2011

Debra Granik.

Debra Granik
Two films: Winters Bone 2010, Down to the Bone 2004

After watching both Winters Bone, and Down to the Bone and researching Debra Granik as a director I think she definitely has a personal stamp on her films. They’re gritty and real and follow thick narrative plots. Her personal stamp increased with better equipment and a higher budget after 6 years of filming, but the same raw quality lingers in both films. Use of camera angles, framing, and movement give it that edgy documentary characteristic. The cuts between scenes are quick and precise, leading to sharp purposeful editing.

I’d like to say that her background gave inspiration and her fingerprint on these films but it was in no way related to these tales of drugs, poverty, and addiction. Maybe her own stamp came from trying to tell real stories of hitting rock bottom, unlike something she was totally familiar with. She also found the really terrifying glimpse of drugs to be something controversial and a challenge, which is also why she chose it.

The common themes and styles between these two films are pretty apparent once watched. She centralizes around poverty, drugs, and life in a small town. She toys with the idea of helping family and how important they are, yet the leader has her faults with drugs, or harassment by others. Both main characters are women, one out to save her family in a world of crystal meth labs, and the other a cocaine addict who tries to make the choice to be sober.

            Both stories involve short-term journeys out of life long battles. Winters Bone is a voyage of a young girl to save her family, with their lives riding on her shoulders. Down to the Bone is a story of addiction, highs and lows, and the struggle within. Both women getting knocked down again and again, and somehow finding relief and salvation in the end. Despite the dreary nature of the cinematography of both films, a surprisingly nice ending arrives.

            Down to the Bone was about a mother, Irene, who is balancing a small time life based on a cocaine addiction. She holds a job, takes care of her two sons, and comes home to a husband everyday but only does so because drugs are holding her together. But after one of her lowest moments she starts a rehabilitation cycle and tends to be falling apart including slowing at her job and taking part in an affair with a heroin addicted nurse she’s met. I see the ending as something almost happy and a little bit optimistic.  Winter’s Bone focuses on the not so normal struggle of a 17-year-old girl, Ree, who must find her missing father and save her family’s home. He wasn’t a father to look up to, being a well known meth cooker, but Ree must make huge sacrifices when she finds out he put their home up for payment as bail. He doesn’t make it and Ree is told she has a week to find him or the house is taken away from her younger brother and sister and mother who never speaks. After terrible warnings from family and “friends” Ree discovers with the help of her uncle that her father is dead and she brings his severed arm to prove it and wins her home back. This movie was adapted from an unpublished novel at the time and pushed to feel very real and intense with its subject matter.

In Down to the Bone I think one of the most captivating scenes that capture a “rock bottom” moment is when Irene the mother of two boys uses her son’s money to keep her cocaine addiction going. Her dealer actually denies her son’s birthday check from a relative when she tries to by drugs, but that denial actually triggered her lowest moment and decision to enter rehab which adds a lot of meaning to this film. You can feel her desperation and shame in asking but even more so when he actually says no.

One scene I chose from Winter’s Bone to discuss is in the end where daughter Ree must paddle out into a lake and feel for her fathers dead body buried in the dirt. The feelings portrayed in that scene are very real and have a visceral affect on the viewer. She’s in a boat full of women who have physically punished her for trying to find her dad, yet have a change of heart and lead her there where his body is buried. I was on the edge of my seat thinking something worse would happen expecting the women to dump her body into the lake. I was shocked to find their intentions somewhat good, but heartbreaking to see Ree hold her father’s hands and have to saw them off to have proof. The director achieved the desired emotions greatly and this scene is heart wrenching and raw.

In Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence has to be my favorite actor not only because she’s the main character but because I think she does a great job portraying her role as a struggling small town girl. I usually see her as a very glamorous girly girl and to see her in such a different atmosphere let me appreciate her acting skills and not beauty. She was totally convincing and brought strength to the movie.

            In Down to the Bone, I have to say that I was not sold at first by the performance of main character Vera Farmiga as an addict or a mother. I found her raw quality to not be sincere but I think the more I watched the more believable it became. I think I mistook the realness for amateur hour but the documentary style is what she really manages to capture. It’s almost real. I think the director did extremely well with the grittiness and choosing her characters.

Kasey Hartsock

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