Though of course, as I've been learning for a few decades now, the past is never past, except in NYC which is always about the present and the future.
There were few movies or television productions* this year of special interest to this particular viewer with the very fine exception of Winter's Bone. Winter's Bone is the most satisfying film I've seen not only this year but in a long time. It is woman centered, in the generationally poverty-striken Ozarks of Missouri. Father of family is out on bail, but as his court date becomes imminent he's nowhere to be found. The guarantee he signed for the bail money loan put up their bit of generationally-possessed land, their home, as guarantee. No court appearance and the loan is called in, meaning the family loses their home. They have nowhere to go. Their mother is ineffective, ill, physically and emotionally. The entire burden of keeping everything going has been on the oldest child, a daughter, a h.s. dropout, named Ree.
Ree's a drop out because her family responsibilities take all her time. She sees to it there is food for them to eat, even if it is a squirrel stew, the squirrel which she shot, skinned, dressed and cooked herself. She chops the wood for their wood-burning heat and cooking stoves. She helps the young ones with their schoolwork, she sends them to bed (though none of them have what the middle-class could see as a bed much less a separate bedroom). She gets them up, clean, dressed and fed for school. This girl, sixteen or seventeen, can use an axe and a wood chipper with a skill equal to her expertise with a gun. She washes clothes by hand, in the winter. She cares for her mother who is often insensible. She has a respected standing in the community among both the men and women as one of their own, who does what is needful, without talking or complaining either. When they can, people pitch in with what little they've got to share and share with her, whether it be feeding her horse because she's not got the money to buy hay, loaning her use of their wood chipper, sending over a part of the latest venison butcher. Many of them are blood kin to Ree and each other in one way or another.
Now Ree must save their home. This means finding her father, which means moving into the community's masculine sector. Information about her father is stone-walled from all the men she requests it from.
She gets some help and support from a number of women including her best friend and cousin who married one of the biggest drug dealers and is now a mom. When you might think at least there's this in Ree's deprived world, this warm network of supportive strong women to hold her up, this changes with the snap of fingers -- because the men say so. The women can't survive without each other, but this is a patriarchy and none of the women can ever forget that. Now it really gets interesting.
The film's beautifully composed, lit and shot. It moves quickly but without any sense of melodrama left over from the 1930's hillbilly potboilers, like Erskine Caldwell's 1932 Tobacco Road (which, set in Georgia, is a long way from the locale of this film). The music and sound track are exquisite.
Winter's Bone makes an interesting first part of a film duology with the non-fiction documentary, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Now, these people and their documentarians have definitely been too much influenced by their own mythology.
With both these films you see people and faces that are seldom given space or voice in the media. But in contrast to TWAWWOWV, in Winter's Bone, the dignity of Ree's character and so many of the other women in the film will make you want to cry, but you know better than to do that, to disrespect them and their struggles that way. They don't cry for themselves. There isn't a wrong move, a false note, a single cliche, a drop of condescension in any scene of this film.
I know those people of Winter's Bone, down in my bones. I'm not Scotch-Irish and I grew up on the prairie but still, these are my people. Everything in this film that is known and familiar, whether it be the homes, the animals, the kids, the sky of winter where it is hard, cold and dark. That community, I know it in the most intimate spaces of my heart.
* For television it was David Simon's Treme on HBO and The Good Wife on CBS.