“Drift”: A Haunting Tale of Displacement and Resilience
The 2023 drama “Drift” had its world premiere on January 22nd at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, garnering strong critical acclaim. Set for theatrical release on February 9th, “Drift” tells the poignant story of a Liberian refugee struggling to build a life on a Greek island. With nuanced storytelling and compelling lead performances, this film promises to be one of the most impactful movies of the year.
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“Drift” marks the English-language directorial debut of acclaimed filmmaker Anthony Chen. Chen burst onto the global cinema scene in 2013 with his first feature, “Ilo Ilo”, an intensely personal story about a middle-class family in 1990s Singapore. That film won the Camera d’Or for best first feature at Cannes, signaling the arrival of Chen as an important new cinematic voice.
With “Drift”, Chen once again examines the quiet drama of interpersonal relationships, this time telling the story of two displaced strangers forging an unlikely connection. Backed by a talented cast and artistic team, “Drift” looks to move audiences with its timely and unflinching portrayal of the ongoing global refugee crisis.
“Drift” centers around Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo), a young woman from Liberia now adrift in Greece. We’re introduced to her as she lands alone and empty-handed on a Greek island, fleeing trauma back home. Struggling for sustenance and shelter, Jacqueline offers massages to tourists to battle her gnawing hunger.
As Jacqueline gathers strength, she encounters an American expat named Callie (Alia Shawkat) working dead-end jobs as a tour guide on the island. Callie has demons of her own that brought her to this Greek paradise turned purgatory.
A tenuous friendship develops between the two women, with both discovering reservoirs of resilience as they form an unlikely bond. Jacqueline’s past begins to resurface as she strives to create a future, with Callie becoming an unlikely pillar of support.
Lead Actors and Characters
Guiding this poignant drama are powerful lead performances by Cynthia Erivo and Alia Shawkat in the roles of Jacqueline and Callie.
Cynthia Erivo is an ascendant British actress who burst onto the scene with her virtuoso starring role in the biopic “Harriet”. Her fierce performance as American freedom fighter Harriet Tubman earned her Best Actress nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards. Prior to that star turn, Erivo won a Tony, Grammy and Emmy for her electrifying portrayal of Celie in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple”.
In “Drift”, Erivo brings her magnetism and emotional transparency to the complex role of Jacqueline. Early critical reactions out of Sundance have heaped praise on Erivo’s empathetic disappearance into Jacqueline’s quiet dignity and simmering sorrow.
Matching Erivo’s intensity is indie darling Alia Shawkat as the driftless American Callie. Shawkat may be best known for her hilarious portrayal of Maeby on the cult sitcom “Arrested Development”. Yet in recent years, the actress has been taking on darker, more complex roles in independent films.
Her supporting turn in the drama “Animals” displayed the depth she could bring to a troubled character. With Callie, Shawkat gets the chance to sink her teeth into an even thornier, enigmatic woman wrestling with some unnamed trauma.
Critics assert she rises ferociously to the challenge.
|Protagonist, Liberian refugee stranded on Greek island
|American expat tour guide who befriends Jacqueline
These two women form the emotional anchor at the center of this intimate and unpredictable human drama. Audiences can look forward to two more boldly vulnerable performances from these gifted actresses.
Unique Directorial Vision
While Erivo and Shawkat’s acting prowess will rightly garner much of the limelight, director Anthony Chen also leaves a distinct imprint with his subtle yet striking vision. Chen adapted the script from Alexander Maksik’s novel “A Marker to Measure Drift”, together crafting a layered examination of displacement and the search for connection.
Chen’s light touch as director favors nuance and gesture over melodrama. Working with talented Mexican cinematographer Damian Garcia (“Museum”), Chen creates contrast between the stark, sun-bleached environment of the island and the inner lives of the two women. The camera work evokes a sense of restlessness that echoes Jacqueline and Callie’s profound isolation.
Reviewers also highlight the trance-like, immersive quality of the ambient score by rising composers Oliver Davis and Vikingur Ólafsson. Their music works in concert with the lilting visuals to generate a dreamy, otherworldly atmosphere. This both underscores Jacqueline’s precarious sense of reality and highlights the unlikely nature of her growing bond with Callie.
During its Sundance debut, “Drift” received glowing reviews from critics—currently holding a 96% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
New York Times critic Manohla Dargis calls the film ”a shattering yet beautifully modulated drama about displacement and the emotional drift of the migrant experience.” She singles out Erivo and Shawkat for their “finely calibrated performances” along with Chen’s refined storytelling approach.
Justin Chang at Variety praises the film as ”a piercing and poetic study of trauma’s lingering grasp, held together by two gifted actresses.” Chang asserts that Chen makes a leap forward as a director with this English-language debut.
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney sums up many critics’ consensus, labeling “Drift” as ”a piercing study of friendship as means of overcoming life’s brutal betrayals.” Rooney lauds the way Chen and cinematographer Garcia make mesmerizing use of the Greek seaside landscapes as an extension of the leads’ psychic states.
On the heels of its glowing Sundance reception, “Drift” arrives in US movie theaters on February 9, 2024 via distributor A24 Films. Early critical reactions indicate this artfully made and timely drama has the potential to be an arthouse breakout hit.
Cynthia Erivo also seems poised to add another awards season run to her rising star trajectory. Her empathetic work could position her in the Best Actress race once again.
For world cinema followers and fans of character-driven indie fare, “Drift” is essential viewing when it drifts into your local cineplex next month. With two force-of-nature lead turns and artful, compassionate direction, “Drift” makes a haunting cinematic impact that lingers like an aching memory.
Director Anthony Chen expands his compassionate, character-focused filmmaking style to take audiences inside the inner world of displaced souls with “Drift”. Backed by the immerse lead performances of Cynthia Erivo and Alia Shawkat, Chen crafts an affecting tale of unlikely friendship and perseverance in the face of trauma.
Early critical reactions indicate “Drift” announces Chen as a rising directorial talent in world cinema. His collaboration with Erivo and Shawkat looks to be one of the standout films of 2024. Audiences can experience the haunting emotional power of “Drift” when it hits US theaters for a limited engagement starting February 9th.