Oscar winner Drive My Car movie review: A brilliantly told story about love, loss, guilt, silences
What: Oscar winner (winning Best International Feature Film) Drive My Car is a brilliantly told story about love, loss, guilt, silences and of course Chekhov
Drive My Car movie synopsis
Japanese films use everything - the weather, the places, the people, and in this film, they use Anton Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya - to add layers and meaning to a simple story. And the story is simple: A theatre director, actor Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as is married to a beautiful screenwriter and storyteller Oto Kafuku (Reika Kirishima).
He’s been grieving for two years when he is invited to Hiroshima to an arts festival where he has to put together a multilingual version of a celebrated Chekhov play. The movie is about how life and theatre have parallels. Does directing a play help him recover from the tragedy of his life?
Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi takes a 38-page story by Haruki Murakami and converts it to a gut-wrenching, gentle story of loss. The film opens with a man and woman making love while she tells him a story about a girl and her unrequited love. The story is so gripping you barely notice what is happening in the scene. Imagine that! Most voyeurs go to ‘festival films’ for the ‘adult’ scenes. But here, you begin to imagine how this girl sneaks into the boy’s room to catch his perfume instead of watching the two make love.
The hero Yusuke Kafuku (played with a peerless gentleness by actor Hidetoshi Nishijima, and you have seen him in all kinds of roles including as a gruff bodyguard to a Korean movie star in the romance series Boku to Star no 99 Nichi), drives his red Saab two door hatchback everywhere, practising his lines of the play on cassette player. His wife knows his dialogue delivery so well, she records all dialogue leaving gaps so he can say his lines. But she shows up to his play with a young man…
Now you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that the young man is Kafuku’s wife’s lover. And you wonder why Kafuku-san does not say anything. Your heart breaks when he quietly shuts the door and goes to a hotel… Why does he not confront her? But this is not some Bollywood or even Hollywood melodrama where a cuckolded husband must raise hell…
When Oto, the wife (played by the gorgeous Reika Kirishima) says, ‘Come home and we shall talk’, I stopped sipping my coffee, and my heart just plunged to my stomach. Is she going to leave him?
Tragedy strikes and he is left widowed. He drives to Hiroshima, and he is told by the director of the festival: We’ve had an artist in residency run over a pedestrian, so we now provide a driver for your car even if you can drive… Artists perhaps think of their work and don’t pay attention to traffic… This is where we meet a 23 year old Misaki Watari (played by the wonderful Toko Miura) who has been appointed ‘driver’.
Now Kafuku has asked for a hotel an hour's drive away, a drive where he thinks of the play, practising the lines. Now he has to put up with a driver. But she’s quiet and drives seamlessly, giving the director mind space to think of Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya they are going to put up for the festival.
The dialogue from the play seems to resonate with Kafuku’s life. The professor and his wife Yelena are going through an estrangement… Kafuku-san’s work with the actors is a wonderful study of how touchy actors are. He’s working with a multilingual cast that includes the young man whom he has seen with his wife.
That’s a challenge because the audience will conclude that Kafuku will be vengeful with the young man. But he isn’t. And the young man reveals a secret, the end of a story his wife hasn’t finished telling. Kafuku is shocked. The quiet driver and the soft-spoken director have by now developed a quiet understanding. You feel like she’s driving you home after a long day when he drives back with her.
‘I see that you have cared for this car, so I drive it with the same care,’ she says, and he knows that she too has secrets buried deep inside her heart. He tries to get over the almost realistic story his wife has told her lover, so he asks the driver to take him to her village. Now Hokkaido is way up North of Japan, so when both the driver and the owner of the red Saab have the need to come to terms with their past, we go to a place of snow. She has a tragedy she feels responsible for, and he feels guilty for not going home because he was avoiding a confrontation with his wife… Both are wearing their guilt like an albatross around the neck. Sharing the guilt helps both find a way out. And both standing against the house buried under the snow is a memorable image. Both find release and we see Kafuku play Vanya and Misaki drive that red Saab as she steps into her new life…
Yusuke Kafuku has been avoiding playing the role of Uncle Vanya because it is so close to his life and he knows he will not be able to keep his personal feelings out of the role. She has been carrying her guilt even though she has not stopped driving away from her home. You too will remember the shot of the two of them holding up their cigarettes to the sky…
This Oscar winning film plays on the MUBI platform where you will find other great cinema of the world. You must not miss this film!
Love it! I think it's perfect!