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FROZEN RIVER

Director: COURTNEY HUNT

U.S.A. • 2008 • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 97 MIN


AWARDS AT SUNDANCE AREN’T ALWAYS A GUARANTEE OF QUALITY, BUT THEY CERTAINLY GOT IT RIGHT IN THE CASE OF THIS GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER, SINCE COURTNEY HUNT’S STORY OF HARDSCRABBLE LIVES ON THE ICED-UP U.S.-QUEBEC BORDER IS A STRIKING COMBINATION OF GRITTY OBSERVATION, TOPNOTCH ACTING AND HIGH-TENSION STORYTELLING.

Frozen River may be firmly in the Paul Laverty/Ken Loach school of concerned drama but it comes across as minty fresh simply because we haven’t seen these people and places on screen before. Melissa Leo (well-worth her Oscar nomination for Best Actress) is a revelation as the waitress whose dreams of a better trailer home will disappear if she doesn’t get the final payment money from somewhere, which pitches her together with small-time smuggler Misty Upham, a cash-strapped Native American with pressing family issues including an infant ‘stolen’ by her mother-in-law. That partly explains how these two unlikely cohorts find themselves in Leo’s car, driving illegal immigrants across the frozen river which marks the border in these parts. ‘I’ve seen semis make it across’, reflects Upham, rather ominously.

Hunt’s film is at heart a reflection on human resilience and meeting the challenge of change, though it presses its concerns through a story which ramps up sustained intensity without ever playing a false note — it always appears that these women are facing real choices and dealing with them as best they can. The result is authentic, steely and a telling snapshot of the lives of others. No wonder Sundance jury president Quentin Tarantino reckoned it ‘put my heart in a vice’. In short, this is a genuine winner. — Trevor Johnston.

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