Driving my car | Review – Cinelinx
drive my car is the latest foreign film to be nominated for Best Picture. Despite a long run, it fully deserves its place among the best films of the year.
The loss of a loved one can be a very difficult thing to overcome. This is especially true when your feelings for that person are unresolved. Movies often play the emotional game of trying to honor the person who’s gone, but how can you do that if you’re not sure how you felt about them? It is a much more complicated and delicate situation to which there are no easy answers.
It is the dilemma that motivates drive my car. It’s a beautiful, almost poetic look at the impact of unresolved loss. It explores the implications of never being able to find the solution to the unexpected death of a family member, and how difficult it is to move forward in the face of these complicated emotions. But in addition to the theme of loss, the film offers a powerful discussion of the theme of communication.
drive my car
Directed by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Written by: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
With : Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima
Release date: August 20, 2021
Yūsuke Kafuku is a veteran actor and director and is married to a screenwriter named Oto. Yūsuke discovers that his wife is cheating on him, but decides not to discuss it for fear of changing their relationship. Unfortunately, he never gets the chance because she dies unexpectedly. Years later, while working on a stage production, Yūsuke chooses to hire a man who had an affair with his wife in hopes of finding out why she cheated on him. At the same time, he meets a driver who also experienced an unresolved loss, and together they find a way to fix their life as best they can and try to move on.
Yūsuke’s relationship with Oto is complicated. The loss of their young daughter decades ago left them both emotionally stressed and they regret not having another child. They rarely talk or convey emotions to each other. However, they have a very intense physical attraction to each other, which is part of what keeps them together. As a scriptwriter, Oto can only create her stories during sex, but she is unable to remember them, and so she relies on Yūsuke.
Oto gives Yūsuke purpose and allows him to feel something real. The rest of his life is devoted to his performances. He listens to Oto’s tape recordings of the pieces he performs in order to learn his lines and understand the cadence. Even when she’s gone, he can’t help but keep listening to the tapes while driving his car. The tapes essentially keep her voice alive, and in essence, she tells him a story, much like the relationships they had when they were intimate.
It’s one of many brilliant, albeit subtle, storytelling techniques the film employs. The piece that Oto reads on the tape is Checkov’s Uncle Vanya which happens to be the same play that Yūsuke directs two years later when he meets his wife’s former lover. But the ties run deeper than Yūsuke having to relive the same game over and over like something twisted. groundhog day. The film uses dialogue from the tapes to make sense of the events happening in the film as Yūsuke listens to them.
It’s almost as if the film has a series of footnotes to pass along as the story unfolds. Another is one of the stories Oto tells Yūsuke at the start of the film, and is revisited as the plot progresses. The story offers insight into Oto’s behavior, but more importantly, it provides an uneasy connection between Yūsuke and the man who had affairs with Oto, Koji Takatsuki. Kōji is a famous actor with an anger management problem. He admires both Oto and Yūsuke, but will never be able to have what they have.
Another fascinating way the film deals with the subject of communication is through the play that Yūsuke directs. The production is multilingual, with each actor who does not speak Japanese performing their lines in their native language, including an actress who interprets in sign language. Through his work, Yūsuke can see the language of the play rather than hearing it through his deceased wife’s voice via his tapes.
In a way, it helps break down some of the barriers he had with the material and see it in a new way. Until now, he had only associated his wife’s voice with the dialogue. It swirled around in his head again and again, but it kept him from really understanding it because he was preoccupied with his death. Essentially, it kept him from letting her go. Seeing the emotion of the play in sign language, he realizes the need to move on.
There are more details encountered along the way that I won’t discuss here, but they all represent just how awesome the plot is. Every little wrinkle feels like just another messy compilation, but over time the film massages them all into a perfect fit. The result is a beautiful prismatic structure where every moment and meaning can be seen refracted and reflected in another. It all adds up to a very deep and moving film full of fascinating moments to contemplate.
I also enjoyed the way the movie unfolds, even if it takes time to get where it’s going. It meticulously builds on itself at a natural, albeit heavy, pace. This makes for a very long movie, but definitely worth the wait. Plus, the film is full of these interesting traveling interludes that allow the material to breathe and the viewer to contemplate. It makes everything more natural to mimic the cadence of everyday life.
Repetition, loneliness, and isolation also help to reinforce the feelings of the characters and the themes of the film. The casting is very skilful and punctual, with nothing too high or too low. This helps reinforce the flow, but also allows the audience to not focus too much on one character or part of the plot. The movie works best when you consider everything together, and you need time to fully appreciate it.
drive my car feels artfully tailored, like the modern take on classic Russian literature its protagonist is obsessed with. At first glance, it might not seem like anything out of the ordinary, but the more time you spend with it, the more you realize just how obsessed and perfected each piece is to do its job. All of these fine details work in beautiful harmony to create a film that is as deep as it is captivating. Death may be a common subject in dramatic cinema, but few have been able to access the kind of understanding and connection achieved here.