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Frozen River

Melissa Leo gives a pitch perfect performance in Frozen River (Sony Pictures Classics)

It's rare to be able to write about two movies in one week that are directed by women but this week affords me the opportunity with Courtney Hunt's Frozen River and Culine Sciamma's Water Lilies both opening at Landmark , and both are feature film directing debuts. Frozen River is set near a little-known border crossing on the Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec. It's just before Christmas and Ray (Melissa Leo) is struggling with the sudden disappearance of her gambler husband and the family savings. Ray meets Lila (the implacable Misty Upham), a Mohawk woman, by chance and strikes up a prickly partnership with her. Lila lures Ray into the quick money of human smuggling. The film is at its best with the two women. Leo, who's done well in supporting parts (most notably 21 Grams and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada ), shines in this starring role as a women whose desperation prompts her to take risks. Leo's Ray is tired and worn but still driven by a survivor's strength. The plot takes some contrived turns and none of the other characters are developed with the depth and honesty of the two main women but it's a promising debut for Hunt. Listen to our Film Club of the Air discussion about the film.

Companion viewing: 21 Grams, The Threee Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Powwow Highway

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