Friday, August 15, 2008
How far is a mother willing to go in order to provide food and shelter for her children? Courtney Hunt's directorial debut "Frozen River" (USA 2008, 97 min.) affectionately tells a compelling story about two women's struggle for survival. It won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Feature at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Set in upstate New York next to a Mohawk reservation, Ray (Melissa Leo) desperately needs money, so her 15 years old and 5 years old sons can stop eating popcorn for dinner. Her husband addicts to gambling and vanishes with the down payment for their double-wide trailer. While searching for him, Ray meets a woman Lila (Misty Upham) from Mohawk reservation who tries to get her son back to her custody. They team up and begin to smuggle illegal aliens over the frozen river to make quick money, hoping that Ray will get her double-wide trailer and Lila will get her son back.
How this film tells the story reminds me Coen brothers' "Fargo," although "Frozen River" is less funny and less bloody, if there is any blood at all. "Frozen River" allows the story takes the course and unfold as it happens; mostly in freezing cold ice and snow, the film's memorable protagonists struggle with money, then get themselves into "situations" they know they should avoid. However, unlike the characters in "Fargo," Ray and Lila smuggle illegal aliens not because of greed, but because of the desperation in taking care of their children and because of love.
Although the episode of smuggling of Pakistani couple in the film seems superficial, this is one of those great independent films that we greatly admire their honest effort and solid contents and we tend to forgive their flaws.