“Frozen River” is an independent drama film from 2008. It is both directed and written by Courtney Hunt. This is her first film, which I would not have guessed after watching it. After viewing this film I was sure she had a lot of experience in film making due to the films maturity and how touching it was.
“Frozen River” stars Melissa Leo as Ray, a middle aged woman with two kids who is in the midst of buying as well as desperately needing a new house. Unfortunately, the money she has been saving up for the new house gets stolen by her husband who takes off on a gambling spree. This act destroys the family’s economy. Ray has a low-paid part time job which can barely feed the family, let alone buy the new house. While trying to figure out how to be able to gather enough money for the new house, she comes across a part-time human smuggler, Lila Littlewolf. Ray soon realizes how much money she can make through the smuggling of illegal immigrants from Canada to US (over a frozen river which separates the boarder of the USA and Canada). Ray becomes a smuggler herself, working with Lila, but working in the smuggling business doesn’t go as smoothly as the women have hoped…
“Frozen River” deals with big issues: poverty, immigration and motherhood. The movie is pretty short (97 min.), but it’s so intense it feels a lot longer. Ray’s struggle to somehow satisfy the needs of her family single-handedly is heartbreaking to watch. She gets a rotten deal, a not uncommon thing for single mothers in the US (they are actually the most common group of people who are below the poverty level in the US). Ray is shown having a part time, minimum-wadge job, a problem that most single-parent women have and which places many of them below the poverty level. So the movie is fairly realistic about Ray’s problems, which makes the movie even grittier. For an American film, “Frozen River” gives a true and fair voice to poor families, and to the sometimes harsh realities of being a single mother. Also Lila, the other smuggler and a Mohawk, is a character the viewer bleeds for. She is also a single mother, but her child has been taken away from her by her mother-in-law. She has trouble getting jobs and feels mistreated by the white majority in the film. Lila at first acts harshly towards Ray, but after the two women get to know each other and realize that they are both getting the bad end of the social deal, she and Ray bond, resulting in a moving friendship. This part of the movie is particularly poignant since it’s one of the few decent female bonding’s portrayed in cinema.
Even if you meet most of the illegal immigrants briefly, Hunt gives us a pretty good idea of how vulnerable their situation is. Ray even seems somewhat lucky for not having to be one of them, even if just barely so. Hunt seems to want to point out how inhumane illegal smuggling can be and how we should put into place some kind of protection system for the illegal immigrants. Hunt also points out that Ray and Lila get a fairly small portion of the money for the smuggling, while the top dogs in the smuggling business are fairly rich and very savage.
“Frozen River” is a near-perfect work of cinematic art which I feel should be viewed by everyone interested in any of these issues. It is actually not that hard to find, either, since it was highly acclaimed by critics.
As a movie about illegal immigration/immigration, I thought this was one of the best movies I’ve seen on this subject.
Some other films of interest dealing with the issue of immigration are “An american tail” (1986) by Don Bluth and “Persepolis” (2007) by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. Even if “Persepolis” is not strictly about immigration, it does deal with it in some parts of its 90 minutes or so length. It is also, like “Frozen River”- a great movie directed by a woman.
Does anyone hear now any good movies about immigration? Or has anyone seen “Frozen River” and would like to comment on it?
Lila and Ray