Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Exquisite Gloom and Doom


// By Jonathan Jackson //

Film festivals sometimes cast a dark shadow over their audience. It is a full-on eclipse at the 60th Berlinale.

My two fiction favorites thus far are no exception. Sundance Jury Prize winner WINTER'S BONE from Debra Granik and Thomas Vinterberg's return to form, the Danish SUBMARINO, both center on a subject many of us, maybe all if we are honest, can relate to: being the child of a dysfunctional parent(s).

Fulfilling the promise of her 2004 debut DOWN TO THE BONE, Debra Granik's WINTER'S BONE is a riveting, slow burn thriller that follows an Ozark mountain teenage girl, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence in a breakout role). Ree is desperately searching for her out-on-bail father so that her family does not lose their home and land, which he put up for bail. When not taking care of her catatonic mother, or two younger siblings, Ree must stand-up to an entire, seemingly lawless community whose only common value is to remain silent.

WINTER'S BONE could easily have become a cliche-riddled melodrama, in Granik's hands it becomes first rate thriller with the best depiction of a lost American mountain community this side of DELIVERANCE.

While Granik fulfilled the promise of her debut film immediately, Vinterberg has not. His three films following his hugely influential, masterful Dogme 95 debut film THE CELEBRATION all flopped with audiences and critics.

SUBMARINO will change that, at least with critics.

Me leading contender for the Berlinale Golden Bear, SUBMARINO is an unsparring, unflinchingly realistic look at two estranged brothers who are struggling to overcome an abusive and alcoholic mother, an absent father, drug addictions, poverty and the death of their little brother as an infant. Basically your typical date night movie!

Apaprently, SUBMARINO is the term for a type of water torture where the victim's head is held underwater until just before the moment of drowning. Vinterberg does the same to his two leads.

Soul bearing, pitch-perfect performances from the brothers, Danish actors Jakob Cedergren and Peter Plauborg, anchor the drama and allow you to actually empathize with their situations.

In addition to securing stellar performances from the entire cast, Vinterberg nails the right pacing and color palette to reinforce, but not overwhelm the drama.

Simply devastating.

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