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Joel Mayward

Leave No Trace

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Link to our thread on Winter's Bone. Debra Granik's new film is a nominee for our A&F Ecumenical Jury, and it's also one of the best films I've seen in 2018. From my 5-star review:

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When Will and Tom are discovered by local authorities, they’re brought against their will into public life. You might have some expectations as to where this story will go: their father/daughter relationship is abusive; the social services and police will turn out to be jerks; it will glorify living in the wilderness rather than the urban system. Yet none of these expected tropes are present in Leave No Trace; as Roger Ebert said in his review of the Dardennes’ Le Fils, we’ve seen too many movies. Leave No Trace subverts our expectations in the best way. Will and Tom’s relationship is complex and there are moments of tension, but it is far from abusive or sexualized. Indeed, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better father-daughter cinematic relationship–they are honest and respectful of each other, and they share moments of both sadness and levity. There are no villains to be seen here; every character is genuinely good, and Granik’s script and camera is careful to view everyone on screen with a sense of care and dignity. Every single person in Leave No Trace is seen and depicted as just that: a person, a human being, a significant Other. Like the Dardennes, Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) and her earlier film, Winter’s Bone, Granik points out the beauty and brokenness within the margins of society, the quiet corners where we rarely glance yet are imbued with potential significance and truth.

I think Victor Morton mentioned somewhere that the significance of this film is in what it doesn't do--no flashbacks, no unnecessary exposition, no big bad villains or secrets about abuse. It's profoundly simple; it's just two good people trying to figure out how to make their way in the world. And being from Portland, OR, I loved that they filmed on location--it was beautiful to see Will and Tom emerge from Forest Park and walk across the St Johns bridge or ride the Portland aerial tram up to OHSU, journeys I've made myself with my own kids. In its Oregon setting and its off-the-grid narrative, there are obvious comparisons to Captain Fantastic. But I found this film to be so much more interesting and profound, the journey much more internally and emotionally complex.

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Thanks for the review, Joel.  This looks like a good Veterans' Day film.  I'll try to watch it this weekend.

 

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Joel and I highlighted many of the same things in our reviews (I gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars), though I spoke at more length about the "veterans with PTSD" aspect.  Drawing from my 5+ years of working with this group, I was very impressed with how Granik handled it.  So yeah, this would be an excellent Veterans' Day film.

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7 hours ago, Andrew said:

Drawing from my 5+ years of working with this group, I was very impressed with how Granik handled it.

It's interesting how our respective backgrounds shape our experiences with a film. I don't have the same professional experience with vets or those with PTSD, but I do have 12+ years of pastoral ministry with teens/young adults. So I was drawn to Tom's character and Thomasin McKenzie's excellent performance, and I really appreciated how Granik wrote such a strong and fascinating persona who doesn't fall into Movie Teen tropes. 

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Just a note that I saw this with my wife this past weekend, and found that the film was incredibly involving, despite not having much dialogue, and having much of the "action" happening off screen.  This East-coast X'er was very grateful to get to witnesses a community, in the confines of our own country, so far removed from his own world.  Bravo.

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I love this film and was disappointed how little attention it got at year end. But I'm going to do my part and show it to my church movie group in May.

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I need to revisit it--I've considered showing and discussing it in an upcoming seminary course I'm teaching on theology and film, but I also have a million other films I want to show as well. But it's a beautiful, affecting film.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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