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Opening Date
04 Apr 2024
NC16 Some Nudity and Sexual Violence
93 mins
English - subtitles to be advised
Anthony Chen
Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat
The film follows Jacqueline, a Liberian refugee, who flees to a Greek island and develops a friendship with an American tour guide while coping with her past.
By InCinemas  26 Mar 2024
Realistic and hauntingly good.
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Drift is adapted from Alexander Maksik’s novel "A Marker To Measure Drift", and is co-written for the screen by Maksik and Susanne Farrell. In his first English language feature film debut, Singaporean filmmaker and director Anthony Chen brings to life the story of a Liberian refugee, Jacqueline who fled her war-torn home to seek refuge in a Greek island and her friendship with an American tour guide. 
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on 22 January 2023 and was awarded the prestigious ICFT-Unesco Gandhi Medal – Special Mention for Best Film on pace and intercultural dialogue at the 54th International Film Festival of India, along with the Fipresci Prize and the Jury Prize at the Festival International de Cinema d’Auteur de Rabat in Morocco.
The opening scene shows a pair of footprints embedded in the sand, inches from the shoreline where the waves progressively creep in and wash them fully from existence. These powerful opening moments of Chen’s Drift, sets the meditative tone of the film – the helplessness, impermanence and futility of life.
Jacqueline (Tony Award and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo) is a young Liberian refugee who is alone, vulnerable and penniless on a Greek island, where she tries to survive and cope with her past. Over the course of her healing journey, she begins a friendship with an American tour-guide, Callie (Alia Shawkat) and together they find the resilience to forge ahead.
The film begins with very little dialogue. When we first meet Jacqueline, she is barely subsisting in a small beach town of Greece and the audience is not aware of why she is there. Chen’s cinematographic direction allows us quiet observation as Jacqueline treks through her day, scrouging for meals, offering foot massages to tourists on the beach for a few euros, sleeping in a cave by the beach at night and washing her clothes in the ocean. Through periodic flashbacks, scenes of her past life get fed to the audience bit by bit. We catch tantalizing snippets of a time when she sported long braids, living a carefree life in London with her white British girlfriend (Honor Swinton Byrne) and the happy moments with her wealthy privileged minister’s family in militarized Liberia.   
A curious tourist asks how she got to Greece, and Jacqueline replies, “Same as anyone. Plane, ferry, boat and luck”, cutting off further conversation.
Soon enough, these flashbacks reveal a horrific series of events in Jacqueline’s native Liberia, a tragedy that unfolds slowly and then all at once. That revelation is gut-wrenching, and meticulously edited to convey just enough atrocity without being overly excessive. When her backstory is fully divulged, you understand Jacqueline’s character as broken, deprived of identity and devoid of a support network she grew up with. She’s not just merely surviving day to day but drifting through life. She does not know how to move forward from her previous life of sophistication, telling the few people with whom she interacts that she’s a journalist from London. Even after forging a tenuous bond with Callie, it quickly becomes clear how fragile their friendship is, as Jacqueline is yet to be able to truly accept and build new relationships. 
Through Jacqueline’s story, Chen prompts us to consider our responses to trauma and the difficulty in moving beyond it. It is hard for us as it is seemingly impossible for Jacqueline to create a new life after such a horrendous experience. It is akin to a soldier returning from fighting in a war, where her mind cannot reconcile her past trauma with her current reality. Despite her seemingly peaceful new surroundings, she senses danger and threats everywhere, and is always ready to run as her only way to survive.
The true connection of the film comes in the form of Callie, the American tour guide who isopen, friendly, caring, sympathetic and inspires a relationship that cracks through Jacqueline’s defensive walls. Callie is drawn to Jacqueline, and she seems to see and understand her in a way no one else does. Jacqueline’s trauma is the center of the film, and we are given time to understand and take in in Jacquelines’ vulnerability as she interacts with others and slowly allows herself to be known. 
Erivo and Shawkat have great on-screen chemistry. Shawkat as Callie also introduces a bit of levity to an otherwise dreary, slow trudge of a film, and scenes with her are a welcome respite. Erivo gives a commanding performance, her career best as she is able to channel the expressiveness required by the film’s limited dialogue. Through her eyes and expressions, we can see and feel her nervousness, hunger, pains, fear, being lost and consume by all these chaotic emotions.
Despite its limited dialogue and measured pace, Drift is an astonishingly confident, hauntingand deeply moving film which showcases the strength of both Erivo and Shawkat as well as celebrating Chen as one of the most important filmmakers working today. Despite our tendency to demand more of Jacqueline’s back story, the way that Chen (guided by Maksik and Farrell’s brilliant screenplay) effectively reveals and sensitively depict the scenes of horrors that Jacqueline had experienced without the full onscreen display of such blatant acts of violence. It cleverly lets the audience use their own imagination and personal experiences in speculating that such horror and terror Jacqueline could have experienced.
Drift is realistic and hauntingly good. It wisely avoids sentimentality and does not pretend that Jacqueline can ever be fully healed of her pains as a survivor of violence and rape. As Anthony Chen said in his award acceptance speech, he hopes Drift “is a start towards healing and recognising our common humanity” in reference to the suffering in the Middle East and Ukraine.
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