Dramatic “Drive My Car” Ponders Life and Loss

Now in theatres and HBO Max

If the DeLorean is known for time travel and the Aston Martin a harbinger of glamorous espionage, this film’s cherry red Saab is now known as a vessel of truth. Ponderous, profound and poetic, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s drama Drive My Car (B) follows a stoic actor/director played by Hidetoshi Nishijima who grapples with grief in his personal life while directing an unconventional production of the play Uncle Vanya. He begins to surrender control when a young woman (Tōko Miura) is assigned to be his chauffeur, in one of those great Once-style relationships. This Japanese film achieves some additional gravitas due to the austere and revealing landscape of its Hiroshima setting, and its meta glimpse at emotional catharsis means the filmmaker can Chekhov all the boxes of the modern-day art house movie. It’s a delicate balance and a tad glum in parts and honestly sometimes a touch obvious in its musings about the nature of acting and the power of art to heal wounds. But it’s often a fascinating fugue on a variety of themes about loss, as characters alternately try to stick to the text and be moved by it. It’s also a gorgeously filmed travelogue into treacherous human territories with lots of slow-burn discoveries. In addition to the strong lead performances, Masai Okada is also entrancing as a troubled member of the troupe. Ultimately this is an emotionally rewarding road trip into the human condition likely to please cinephiles and completely confound others.

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