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The bleak poetry of “Winter’s Bone.”

The bleak poetry of “Winter’s Bone.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Screening in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance 2010, “Winter’s Bone” brings to mind a number of prior Sundance highlights. Like “Frozen River,” it depicts a woman driven to hard choices by hard circumstances; like “Brick,” it sets a teen protagonist into a thoroughly modern set of problems that might be better described by the scenes and structures of classic film noir. Like director Debra Granik’s previous Sundance film, 2004’s “Down to the Bone,” it depicts a very American kind of poverty, one not only of economics but also of emotions. Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, “Winter’s Bone” has more than just the echoes of other films to offer, though. It has the forward motion of a thriller, yes, and the who-knows-what questions of a mystery. But it also has a delicacy to it, as 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) searches for her absent father while caring for her younger siblings and ill mother, and director Granik, shooting with the RED digital camera, wrings bleak poetry out of the ruined landscape of the Missouri Ozarks.

01232010_WintersBone4.jpgRee is not looking for her absent father in the general sense, or to heal some past wound; local Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) explains to Ree that her father Jessup, arrested for cooking crystal meth, put the family home up as his bond – and then disappeared. If he doesn’t appear in court in a week’s time, Ree and her family will lose everything: Baskin says to Ree, “Make sure that your daddy knows the gravity of this deal,” but Ree doesn’t know where he is. And no one will tell her. Trapped in the silences and secrets of the local criminal underworld, Ree goes to family and friends and neighbors and enemies, knocking on doors and seeing what happens like a Chandler hero, motivated by nothing less than survival.

Ree’s inquiries go nowhere – even with her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), a whipcord-lean thug whose capacity for violence is terrifying. Almost all the men Ree encounters are terrifying – tight-wound with silence, lashing out when it breaks – but the women around her aren’t much different, and, like Ree, trying to deal with the men in (or absent from) their lives. Lawrence’s performance is strong and unstudied, but it’s also clearly constructed; Ree is headstrong, but not foolish, and she’s only putting herself in harm’s way because the consequences of failure are worse.

01242010_WintersBone6.jpgGranik and cinematographer Michael McDonough shoot with flat, this-is-what-happens authenticity (with the exception of one black-and-white hallucination, where squirrels twitch and shiver in the woods as the sound of chainsaws fills the air), but also wring myth and majesty from the landscape. Ree walks through a landscape that looks like Lear’s blasted heath with rusting pickup trucks and abandoned satellite dishes scattered casually through it; when a group of women take Ree to a place of deliverance with brutal kindness and terrible mercy, it is hard not to think of Macbeth’s witches.

“Winter’s Bone” takes place in a world of addiction and anger, of crime and consequence. When Teardrop decides to help Ree – as much as he can, and in his way – she moves back from the foreground of the narrative, and yet that comes precisely at the moment when we know she’s done all she can. Hawkes, best known for his work on “Deadwood,” is a real and rich presence here, a murderer who is still a man, a criminal who is still a brother. “Winter’s Bone” shows a world where the bonds and bindings of family and community become a stranglehold, but where some light, winter-bright and seemingly bleak, can still leak through the cracks.

“Winter’s Bone” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “Winter’s Bone,” Anonymous Content, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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