Month: March, 2022

Drive My Car

Verdict: A long and winding road that is worth taking.

Settle in and get comfy because Drive My Car is a long ride. At nearly three hours this film is hardly just popping down the road for bread and milk. Rather, Writer/Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has crafted a purposefully protracted journey through grief, regret, and sorrow. But before you think this might be too glum a ride to take, think again. Because while tonally sombre, there is plenty of reward for those who enjoy the cinematic journey rather than the destination alone.

The film focuses on Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a renowned stage actor and director who wrestles with deep-seated sadness after the unexpected death of his wife. Two years later the grief-stricken Kafuku accepts an invitation to direct a multilingual production of Anton Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya, at a festival in Hiroshima. Dark clouds gather as the casting process delivers to Kafuku the play’s lead, Kôshi Takatsuki(Masaki Okada), a young screen star who shares an unwelcome connection to Kafuku’s late wife. Forced to confront painful truths, Kafuku strikes up an unlikely friendship with his introverted driver, Misaki (Tôko Miura), who was reluctantly commissioned to drive him around Hiroshima. And it is within the confines of his immaculately kept red Saab 900 Turbo where much of this tale unfolds. Despite their different backgrounds the pair nurture a kinship and desire to unlock the mysteries of each other’s grief.

Hamaguchi’s thoughtful approach to filmmaking is summed up by Takatsuki, who midway through the film comments: “I get the feeling that you both value the finer details that people won’t even notice.” Indeed, Drive My Car wholeheartedly ascribes to this sentiment as it focuses on small details of Chekhov’s play that begin to mirror Kafuku’s life. I’m unfamiliar with the play but feel that this film will offer a deeper understanding for those who are.

Undoubtedly, Drive My Car won’t be to everyone’s taste—the film’s clinically measured pace, its stillness, sparse musical score, and restrained cinematography will be a road too far. But the more persistent will find plenty of beauty in Drive My Car’s tranquil and insightful observations and be rewarded with a cathartic ending that’ll make the journey worthwhile.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Cyrano

Verdict: Dinklage rises above the powdered-wigs to deliver a charming performance.

Filmmaker Joe Wright is no mug when it comes to impressive period pieces about unrequited love. Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina, all excellent films, are cut from the same cloth. Cyrano is more of the same, except this time it’s a musical and has considerably more wigs.

The odd decision to make Cyrano a musical makes more sense when you consider it was adapted for the screen by Erica Schmidt. Her own stage-musical from which this film is based, was in turn inspired by Edmond Rostand’s 19th Century play where the titular wordsmith, Cyrano de Bergerac, a man with a disfigured nose, acts as a go-between for two star-crossed lovers. Here, Schmidt replaces the long schnozz with a short man—a move that might’ve ruffled a few politically correct feathers had her husband not been the film’s star (and most likely the world’s most famous dwarf), Peter Dinklage.

Poking out the top of a suitably ruffled costume Cyrano (Dinklage), with his mournfully wounded-dog eyes and pen in hand, woos Roxanne (Haley Bennett) on behalf of the dim-witted Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). It’s a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, as we learn early in the film that Cyrano harbours a secret love for the same women. Add to the mix a slippery Ben Mendelsohn, who slithers into frame as the villainous De Guiche, and what follows is a wonderfully compelling (and at times comical), dance between the film’s mainstays. Cyrano avoids descending into a male conquest story and Bennett’s take on Roxanne never succumbs to the abject “damsel” trope, rather, her interpretation imbues the character with more autonomy than previous versions.

Such is Joe Wright’s experience as an “actors director”, Cyrano undoubtedly operates better as a drama than a musical. This is in part due to the gloomy tendencies of composers Aaron and Bryce Dessner (from the band The National, who are known for their darker numbers) whose songs are hit-and-miss, and partly because Dinklage makes a far better actor than he does a singer. Thankfully, the diminutive Dinklage climbs out of the Dessner dirge, scales a mountain of ruffles, buckles, and powdered-wigs, and provides a worthwhile reason to see this film.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.