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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Sydney Film Festival (22) - LEAVE NO TRACE (Debra Granik, USA)

Spoiler Alert: The whole plot is given away here.

In Winter’s Bone (USA, 2010), Debra Granik and her collaborator Anne Rosellini, adapted a novel by Daniel Woodrell set in the backblocks, the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. The economy of this cold, bleak and godforsaken place seemed to run entirely on the production of illegal methamphetamines. A late teenage young woman spends her time trying to keep the remnants of her family together. The mother is dead, the father is missing. 

Winter’s Bone got a lot of attention. It catapulted at least one of its principals to stardom. That was the then young Jennifer Lawrence. 

Debra Granik
The director and writer seem to have spent the next seven years or so getting another feature movie off the ground, though Granik wrote and directed a documentary, Stray Dog in 2014 and is reported to have been seeking a go ahead for the pilot of an HBO series American High Life back in 2012. Glacial career pace you might say but a pattern not unfamiliar to any number of highly-regarded independent film-makers in any number of countries.

The new movie is Leave No Trace, is also adapted from a novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock. The similarities with the earlier Winter’s Bone do stand out. Once again, at the centre is a young and very smart teenage girl. This time its Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) who is a willing participant in the lifestyle of her father, an ex-Vietnam vet with problems who chooses to shun civilisation as much as possible and mostly lives hand to mouth deep in parks and forests on the edge of cities. In this case it’s Portland Oregon but you get the impression that the pair are always on the move, always feeling threatened. The fact that the little vegetable garden Tom has planted has barely emerging plants indicates that their time in the place has been short, as usual.

Anne Rossellini
 Tom and her father Will try to escape all scrutiny, cover their tracks, leave no trace. They are ‘caught’ and kind people help them out, put them up and force Will into taking a job. An overhead helicopter seems to be the catalyst for Will deciding they will bolt and again try and leave no trace. Again they wind up in a low rent trailer community living on the edge of a park – lots of kindness again plus some sense of community. Sitting round the campfire and singing, tending to some beehives, making relationships – Tom decides that when Will once again, for unfathomable/unspoken reasons wants to move on deeper into the forest, she’s had enough and refuses. 

There’s almost no violence, apart from the police apprehension. The father and daughter are utterly respectful of each other. Hardly a voice gets raised. But you understand a lot…that’s what so good about what Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini do. It’s remarkable. 

But surely it shouldn’t take seven years for them to be able to once again strut their very fine, very quiet, stuff.

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Ben Foster, Leave No Trace

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