27 February 2012

Debra Granik's Down to the Bone (2004)

Although she admits that she's simplifying, Debra Granik sees the traditional movie story as often having the shape of the letter V – the main character hits rock bottom and then climbs back up. But as she understands it, drug addiction has the shape of an ECG: it's full of ups and downs. That's not easy to depict well in a feature film, and it's doesn't make for a movie that's easily distributable.

Up to present, the theme of drug addiction based around the life of a woman with young children to look after seems to be Debra Granik's speciality. I wrote about her Winter's Bone here.

Down to the Bone is an amplification of Granik's 23-minute Snake Feed (1997), which had Corinne Stralke (who only plays a bit part and has a few behind-the-scenes roles in the feature) as Irene, an addict bringing up two kids and struggling to stay clean.

Down to the Bone stars Vera Farmiga as the (initially) married Irene, who also has two kids, and lives in upstate New York – where this was filmed – in the Catskill Mountains in Ulster County. It opens at the end of a snowy October in a dismal mall in a rundown area and moves to a supermarket checkout where the assitant Irene asks an unseen customer if she has an advantage card, and on her replying that she doesn't says 'I don't either'.

This sets the tone for the movie, which sees Irene through rehab and a relationship with supposed ex-addict nurse Bob (Hugh Dillon), but it's hard to stay clean when almost everyone around you is using. The use of the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone as talisman is a little corny, although the lingering images of the pet snake are powerful hints of sex and danger: often almost synonymous here.

This movie has a documenary feel to it, a little like some of Ken Loach's work although without the political agenda.

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