Monthly Archives: May 2019

Warmth and Quiet Contemplation in Leave No Trace

The film Leave No Trace felt warm and inviting throughout, despite tackling difficult issues almost constantly, and taking place in a wet and cold environment. I believe this almost cozy atmosphere is due in part to the style of cinematography and also the delivery of incredibly real, not at all dramatic writing. The film was shot primarily in the woods, which would lend itself nicely to cool tones and a more damp and dark feeling, but the way each scene was lit, allowing for more of the bright greens and rich browns of the forest floor to shine as sunlight filtered though, made the scenes less cave-like and more like a pleasant hike with friends. They really could have leaned into the dark lighting like a lot of the films we’ve seen previously have (which does not go over well on the projector screen) and it would have well represented the darkness of PTSD for Will, and the feelings of confusion and anxiety for Tom, but instead  chose to focus on the brightness of their relationship. The only moments which did go more so towards that dark lighting are the times where Tom and Will aren’t communicating well, and Tom is scared and confused about the situation. When they run away from the farmhouse and are taking the train and bus and finding the 18 wheeler are all moments that stray into the darkness, as do the moments in the woods when Tom is looking for her father. What I appreciate most in those moments is that they don’t stay like that for an extended period of time, but instead ebb and flow as the pair’s feelings change. Will takes care of Tom at the bus stop and buys her a warm drink, getting nothing for himself, and scene brightens up a little bit, Tom is feeling safe and warm in the back of the truck with dog and the lighting is soft and warm, and when they find the cabin the scene and light candles the scene is warm. It is only when Tom realizes that her dad isn’t coming back the shadows lengthen on the candles and give away her feelings of worry and anxiety.

I appreciated the fact that Debra Granik didn’t over-dramatize the relationship between Will and Tom and allowed the love and easy care they had for each other be the focal point for much of the film. They understand each other, which means they don’t talk all that much, but instead work together quietly, with Tom speaking about an occasion question she has, and Will usually being glad to answer. It wasn’t an important moment, but I was especially struck by Tom asking her dad what his favorite color was towards the beginning of the film. My dad is often a quiet man too, and I remember being a little kid and searching for questions to ask him just to keep the conversation going when it got quiet. There was one day that I asked him that exact question and he gave some non-committal response and directed the question back at me, just like Will did. It’s an odd moment to have stick out to me, but I guess it just felt so real, an absolutely accurate representation of a little kid trying to carry a conversation with a parent and having no idea what to bring up except for favorite colors. It would have been easy to write Tom as a dramatic pre-teen and create a caricature of that age on the screen, but instead they gave her a lot of power and autonomy, they trusted her to be a good character without all of that drama. Young kids often don’t make the best serious actors, but Thomasin McKenzie pulls off the role beautifully. Tom’s not perfect, and she gets upset at her dad at times, but through it all, she never forgets how important he is to her and how much she wants him to be a part of her life. Likewise, Will treats her more or less as an equal, respecting that she’s intelligent and capable, but also understanding that she is a kid. The one time that lets up a little is the scene where he tells her that they’ll [Child Protective Services or some equivalent] will take her away. In that moment he totally treats her as a child, but you can also tell how upset he is, and how that’s affecting his better judgement.

This film managed to deliver an awful lot of message without actually having much dialogue or action at all. Debra Ganik clearly trusted the film’s viewers enough to understand the message of the film without delivering it in the ham fisted method that many other directors take. She allowed viewers the time and the space during the film to sit in quiet contemplation, and that paid off massively, this film left me feeling really good afterwards. It wasn’t a film that I was able to leave and go right back to my day, it required some digestion, and I’m glad that I had that chance

Fragile but still Strong

Leave No Trace is about the relationship between a girl and her father. It’s a patient movie and a thorough one. It takes its time unveiling the details of their relationship and their lives. The father, (Ben Foster) suffers from PTSD from his time in the military. He cannot function in society, so he chooses to live in the forest. His 13-year-old daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), lives with him.

Though life in the forest provides its challenges-Tom is growing and is often hungry-the two live happily. As Tom says, they “didn’t need to be rescued,” but living on public land is illegal. They’re brought in and assigned to indoor housing so they can regain themselves with society.  Though Tom thrives, her dad struggles. He cannot handle this lifestyle anymore. The strength of their bond is tested, and it keeps them together as they navigate unfamiliar and uncomfortable terrain.

I bonded with this movie specifically because  it was a movie about a father and daughter relationship. Although I can not relate to all aspects of this movie such as the fact that they live in a forest or that my father was in the war, I can relate to the bond these two actors/actresses shared.

After doing some research of this movie online, the director, and the two actors/actresses open up to the intensity this film shared. Actor Ben Foster stated, “I fell in love with the script. I also have been such a fan of Debra’s work for a while now.” Debra responded with, “I wanted their relationship to be both fragile and strong at the same time and I think it was achieved greatly.”

Both actors are serious and subtle. The whole movie is subtle. There isn’t much dialogue, but the subtext says a lot. Director Debra Granik operates with a light touch that lets events unfold without force. Her film style simply presents the moments and allows viewers to actively participate in them. Nothing is shoved in your face. It’s up to you to engage.

Ringing In Your Ears: The Relevance of “Children of Men” Today

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” opens on news reports of the chaos that has consumed the world in 2027. We soon discover humanity is suffering from an infertility crisis and that the U.K. is seemingly the only stable nation left. The film adopts an apocalyptic frame of mind as war zones of extraordinary plausibility are depicted, the streets are lined with police officers, and thousands of refugees are seen in cages. The state of the world is quickly established within the first two minutes of the film when the very coffee shop the protagonist, Theo, just walked out of explodes. From it emerges a woman carrying her own detached arm. Cuaron’s film is a masterpiece not only because of its ability to shock, but also due to the extraordinary camerawork, attention to detail, and references made to our own world throughout the film.

Children of men is full of long takes that assist in creating a sense of authenticity in the film. Cuaron uses them in almost all of his films and they prove to be a treacherous feat to accomplish. These sequences require perfect orchestration between actors, cameramen, the gunfire, and explosions. The longest single-shot sequence in the film is of Theo running through the battle of the refugee camp that lasted for roughly six and a half minutes. Another notable long take is the car ambush scene which reportedly took 12 days to get just right. The extra time and effort put into these scenes is not lost, instead it adds to the emotion of the scene. These shots amplify the tension of the scene because the camera is never cutting away from the action. For example, we see everything the characters in the car scene see and are then immersed in the chaos and claustrophobia it entails. Everything is in real time as the characters experience it and this only heightens our own reactions to the action.

Another impressive task Cuaron tackled was the attention to detail in the film, largely in regards to its religious references. Cuaron even stated, “Not a single frame of this film can go by without making a comment on the state of things. So everything became a reference … The exercise was to transcend not only reality, but also to cross-reference within the film to the spiritual themes of the film.” The title of the original book the film was based on came from a section of the bible that reads, “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Theo and Kee can even be likened to Joseph and Mary as a shot of them with Kee’s baby resembles portraits of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus Christ. Her reveal of her pregnancy to Theo is reminiscent of the nativity scene and when asked about who the father may be, Kee jokes that she is a virgin.

Even more significant than the religious references made in the film are the references made to our own world today. In the film, refugees are rounded up and thrown in cages, eerily similar to the crisis taking place at our own Southern border currently. These scenes even reference Hitler’s concentration camps as the song “Arbeit Macht Frei” plays while Theo, Miriam, and Kee are on the refugee bus. This phrase was placed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps and in German translates to “work sets you free.” Another striking reference was that of the woman holding her dead son in her arms during the battle scene at the refugee camp. This shot was taken in reference to a photograph, La Pieta Du Kosovo (1990) shot by Georges Merillon that emerged from the Balkan War of a woman crying while holding the corpse of her son. In fact, when the photographer shot this he was referencing La Pieta, the Michelangelo sculpture of Mary holding the corpse of Jesus. This sculpture is also referenced by Theo’s brother as he explains he could not save it while standing in front of another one of Michelangelo’s sculptures, the statue of David. Again, we see the image of a wailing woman holding her child in Picasso’s Guernica that hung behind Theo while he was having dinner with his brother. Cuaron’s painstaking attention to detail creates a whole new layer of relevance to today’s world. Despite being made over a decade ago, the film continues to succesfully draw haunting parallels to our own society.