Leave No Trace (2018)

Rates: * * * * *

Why Did I Watch It? Popped up on the SBS World Movies channel while I was cooking dinner.

Cast, crew, etc

In the forests of the Pacific North West, a troubled war veteran lives off the grid with his daughter, Tom. They camp, they forage for food, they keep a low profile; a seemingly happy, simple life. But the modern world is on their trail and they are constantly on the move. Eventually, this leads them to a remote community of misfit types and conflict; Tom wants to stay, the father does not.

This organic, heartfelt movie shows life among modern society’s outsiders; drifters, hobos, itinerant workers, poor people living in the margins. But shows them not as cliched battlers, but people living their lives; they work, they craft, they tend their animals. They are regular folk – many of the ones depicted are played by non actors – but ones stuck with overcoming many barriers.

Some of these are economic and societal, some, like the ones afflicting the father, relate to mental health. But what the characters have in common is that they have all been let down by the state; most of them are left to fend entirely for themsleves, what little government assistance is available is lacklustre and misguided. This is modern, sink or swim America.

What everyone has, instead, is each other. And I particularly like how this movie depicts a vibrant, ad hoc community spirit. The father and daughter are welcomed everywhere, and numerous strangers do them a solid; whether it’s the truckie who gives them a lift, the woman who loans them a caravan to stay in, or the kid who takes the girl to a rabbit tending class to be friendly.

Acutally, let me underline this last part: there are many animals in this movie, and their importance in these lives is beautifully depicted. Apart from the rabbit scene, there is a lovely, woolly old dog named ‘Boris’ that one character lends to the father to calm him, and another flatout amazing scene where a beekeeper talks about her aviary:

‘When I open this up, the bees are going to come out, but don’t be afraid. They don’t want to hurt you. If they sting you, they die, so they don’t want to do that. They just want to get to know you.’

The film is full of gentle moments like this, that are as far removed from the hustle of the rat race as the character’s forest camp is from downtown.

And the ending of the movie is… quite a moment. Tom finally refuses to go with her father, they stare at each for a long time, they part almost silently. The raw emotional impact of this scene, I have watched it twice and cried both times, is a tribute to the actors; Ben Foster, terrific in an almost silent role, and Thomasin McKenzie, incredible as a young woman whose quiet, unobtrusive demeanour hides someone with a very strong will.

After the characters part, as Tom walks sadly back to her new home by herself, Boris trots up the path to greet her; a hopeful note and a reminder of the value of a very good dog.

A graceful and kindhearted movie, sometimes sad and emotional, often optimistic, perfectly directed by Debra Granik. Knockout.

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