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Adam Woodward

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Drift Away – first-look review

Jérémie Renier finds himself all at sea in Xavier Beauvois’ slow-burn drama about a grief-stricken policeman.

Xavier Beauvois’ latest directorial outing opens with a celebration and a suicide. It’s a grisly juxtaposition that almost seems as though it’s being played for laughs, as the victim in question interrupts a tuxedoed couple’s shoreline photo shoot in sudden and spectacular fashion. Indeed, judging by local gendarmerie officer Laurent’s (Jérémie Renier) rather glib reaction to the incident, it’s hard to know quite what tone Beauvois is attempting to strike here.

As it turns out, Drift Away is far more harrowing than it is humorous. Laurent is introduced as a seasoned copper who’s seen it all, and having a tough exterior is evidently essential in his line of work, as we discover through his routine encounters with the various ne’er-do-wells that occupy this ostensibly tranquil patch of Normandy. But when Laurent fatally intervenes in a farmer’s suicide attempt, both his career and personal life are thrown into disarray.

As with Beauvois’ previous films, much of the script is comprised of observational dialogue that doesn’t lead anywhere in particular but instead builds up a picture of the central characters; the kind of everyday exchanges you might expect to overhear on your way to work or in a coffee shop. These conversational tidbits generally feel true to life but occasionally come off a little rote, such as when Laurent’s female colleague expresses her wish not to have children due to climate change.

It’s only after the fateful event on the farm, which occurs about an hour in, that idle chit chat gives way to more serious discussions pertaining to the fragile and often fractious relationship between France’s law enforcement and its civilian population. There is, of course, a wider socioeconomic context to all this, but Beauvois keeps our focus firmly on Laurent, perhaps to the film’s detriment.

As someone in a position of public authority, Laurent’s indictment and subsequent charge of involuntary manslaughter results in him being left to deal with the tragic consequences of his actions. Despite the support of his wife and young daughter, Laurent is overcome with grief and so, being something of a keen sailor (the original French-language title, Albatros, refers both to the name of a model boat within the film and, more pertinently, the old nautical metaphor for bearing a psychological burden), he decides to quite literally drift away.

The ever-reliable Renier just about manages to keep things afloat, but ultimately there’s not enough wind in the film’s sails to keep it on course for its near-two-hour duration. And the less said about the mawkish final shot the better.

Published 2 Mar 2021

Tags: Albatros Berlin Film Festival Drift Away Jérémie Renier Xavier Beauvois

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