Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oscars de la Rentals

The Changeling (2008) was more disturbing than I realized. I don't know what I was thinking. A woman's son disappears, three months pass, and the LAPD produce "her son" who she swears is an imposter. And so the story goes. It's based on the true story of what happened to Christine Collins beginning in 1928. Angelina Jolie plays Collins with beauty and style-- capable phone operator girl on skates at work, and single mom at home. Christine Collins appears dutiful, skilled, at all sorts of good things and when faced with a false son she's horror struck but her fragility seems to get in the way.

I was struck by how there was a scene in the film when Collins is in a mental institution and I thought, my goodness, did they take this footage right out of Girl Interrupted. Jolie plays crazy well, even if crazy isn't so crazy.

It's hard to watch a film like this and not measure thing to the rights and reactions of people today. I had to keep reminding myself it was 1928 and she was a woman and what did that mean to most everyone. The film is about police corruption as much as it is about her private battle, but there are times when it all converges and it's bloody and horrifying. I was certain I'd be unable to sleep. This film is not for the faint of heart.

Frozen River (2008) explores desperate times for desperate people. Set in upstate New York near the Canadian border, the film opens with Ray (Melissa Leo) bargaining with the delivery man regarding their new double wide trailer. She assures him she'll have all the money when he brings the other half. He shakes his head and drives away leaving nothing. Her two kids are wandering dejectedly around the sad, barren, wintry property, listening, waiting. It turns out their gambling-addicted dad took off in the night taking the deposit with him--one week before Christmas. Her oldest son wants her to go after him. Find him. But Ray has to go to work at the Dollar Mart where she's worked for two years without promotion.

When she spots her husband's car at Bingo on the reservation everything changes. Convinced he's hiding out somewhere she follows the Native American girl who is driving the vehicle and it leads to a lonely trailer in the middle of the woods. Lila (Misty Upham) claims the car was abandoned with the keys in it and that she could sell it for money. Soon Ray, desperate for a double-wide down payment, is driving into Canada with Lila Littlewolf and participating in smuggling people into the US for cash.

Though it's clearly not the best idea, Lila stresses that the law can't touch them on reservation land as they drive across the frozen river. The biggest danger is the river that took her husband when she was too pregnant to go with him. Now her son is a one year old living with her mother-in-law who took him from the hospital and won't let Lila near him. Both of these women have something to fight for and this is the only way they know how.

The film was pretty bleak, depressing, felt sort of fatalistic from the get-go. Things don't go well. But they could be worse. And in the end I felt there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

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