Seattle International Film Festival Report #5

Winter’s Bone is respectful of the mountain culture while pulling no punches in terms of the hard choices people sometimes have to make to survive.

I can’t say enough good things about Winter’s Bone, a mystery/thriller set in the Missouri Ozarks which is respectful of the mountain culture while pulling no punches in terms of the hard choices people sometimes have to make to survive. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) at age seventeen has already assumed responsibility for her invalid mother and two younger siblings only to find their existence threatened by her father’s actions: arrested for cooking methamphetamine, he put up their house and property to secure his bail then skipped out on his court date. The process of trying to find him takes Ree ever deeper into a dangerous labyrinth of drugs and violence where codes of family loyalty clash with an almost absolute belief in individual freedom. Winter’s Bone is beautifully shot on location by Michael McDonough on the RED camera using a number of local actors and musicians, including Marideth Sisco, and richly deserves the awards it has already won, including the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

You’ll need a whole box of tissues to get through When We Leave, a melodrama set in the contemporary German-Turkish community but directed by Feo Aladag in high 1940s style. Umay (Sibel Kekilli) flees her abusive husband and emigrates with her son Cem (Nizam Schiller) to Berlin to join her family, only to find that they brought the patriarchal values of their culture along with them (at one point Umay is told that if her family must choose between her and the Turkish community, they will not choose her) and they want both to seize her son and restore their family honor through her death. Although there are clear parallels in the story with the honor killing of Hatun Surucu in Berlin in 2005, the plot of When We Leave is complex rather than predictable, and the family members, with one exception, are not stereotypes but well-rounded characters clearly struggling with maintaining their traditions in a very different culture. A rapidly-evolving story and beautiful cinematography by Judith Kaufman help the film through a few awkward moments and obvious plot devices.
Skateland, the debut feature of Anthony Burns, has good production values but it doesn’t bring anything new to the well-worn genre of coming-of-age pictures, and it looks particularly weak next to the similarly titled Adventureland. Skateland is a roller rink in a small town in Texas and the home away from home Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez), who prefers working as the rink manager to actually challenging himself by going to college or developing his writing talent. Every idea and character in the film is conventional and some of the actors seem to be reading their lines off a teleprompter, but great care was taken with period details and the cinematography by Peter Simonite is also first-rate.
You may wonder what could possibly be left to say about Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist who has become a cultural icon even for those with little interest in classical music. Can you imagine a movie entitled 32 Short Films about Vladimir Horowitz? But directors Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont have come up with some new revelations in their documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould even if they don’t really deliver what the title promises. They never answer basic questions about Gould (including how many of his well-known eccentricities, musical and otherwise, were really part of a carefully crafted public image) yet do turn up quite a bit of new footage (for a supposed recluse Gould certainly appeared before the camera a lot) and some revelatory interviews, particularly with Cornelia Foss (who had a five year relationship with him) and her children. The focus is on the man, not the music, and Gould himself may have provided the best summation of himself with this quote which appears on the DVD jacket: “I’m very much the anti-hero in real life, but I compensate madly in my dreams.”
Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, directed by Mat Whitecross, works better if you have some emotional attachment to Ian Drury and the British New Wave scene. If not then the seams of this well-done yet conventional biopic are all too obvious. You know the drill: childhood trauma (in Drury’s case polio and a stay in a children’s hospital presided over by a very sinister Toby Jones), years of struggle in which obvious talent compete with self-destructive behavior, the moment of breakthrough followed by success and (because this is a rocker biopic) continued acting out interspersed with moments of reflection. On the plus side Andy Serkis is magnificent as the self-centered and reflexively offensive Drury and Bill Milner is believable as his son, but Olivia Williams as Drury’s wife and Naomie Harris as his girlfriend are given so little to work with that you have to wonder why their characters put up with Drury’s antics for so long. The film’s shiny surface is attractive and the concert recreations are stylish but seem to take place at a distance as if behind glass in a museum. | Sarah Boslaugh

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