July 27, 2010

Film Fest: Day Eleven

A smart, tense espionage film Farewell sheds light on an otherwise unknown tale of the Cold War. Specifically, the events that helped bring about the end of the Cold War. A high-ranking Russian official in the intelligence network begins passing on incredible information, detailing Soviet penetration in the highest reaches of Western governments, to the French in the form of a young engineer stationed in Moscow.
A very atmospheric, if sometimes conventional, spy film the true-story at the heart of it all is amazing enough. There are moments of high tension and sheer disbelief and the film pulls in everyone from the French engineer and his family caught up in the intrigue, to Ronald Reagan and Francois Mitterand.

Our Russian spy is a bear of a man, dancing through the webs of intrigue. He’s not giving away secrets of the State for money, or because he was turned by the West. He’s a Francophile, but is doing this for love of his country. He knows the system is frozen, that the majority of Russian research is merely plundered from the West, and that urgent change is needed. It's a compelling motivation and is really the heart of the film.
Honestly, it's a little difficult for me to write about Farewell. As good as it was (and it was really very good) it was absolutely blown out of the water by my second film of the night...

Winter's Bone
17 year-old Ree is raising her younger brother and sister and looking after her mentally ill mother in rural Missouri. Things are hard enough for her, but then the law comes a-callin’, telling her that her no-good con of a father put the house and property up for his bond. He’s got a week before his court date, or Ree and the family lose the house. Ree ain’t gonna let that happen, so she gets to huntin’ down her pa.
Don’t let the Southern setting and female protagonist fool you – this is a hard-hitting noir film. The places Ree’s got to go, and the people she has to see… well, let’s just say these folk ain’t no good ole’ boys running rings around Boss Hog. These are oftentimes mean and nasty drug cookers, living in tumble-down shacks and farms far from prying eyes. The fact that everyone seems to be related to everyone else means little.
It’s a powerful film, with a tension that sits in your gut and is anchored by the fierce central performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Ree. She’s in almost frame of the film, and never lets up. She’s a young woman with the weight of her family on her back and the temerity to keep them together. Whatever the cost.
It could be considered as a distant Southern cousin to Rian Johnson’s Brick – a noir film outside of a city and the shadows, a protagonist you wouldn’t expect and complete with its own nigh-impenetrable dialect. But where Brick was very stylish, and stylised, this is far more real and dirty. Watching this for the first time is just as astonishing as watching Brick for the first time.
This is a phenomenal film, one of my picks of the Festival and one I want to get people to see. It deserves to be seen on the big screen and I absolutely, thoroughly recommend you get to it if you have the chance.

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