The solitude of the Wastelands: "Drifter" review

English Daily #2
Drifter (2022) / International Competition
Simão Cayatte
12-7 10:00 Moscow Cinema. Blue Hall
12-7 17:30 Moscow Cinema. Blue Hall

Unfolding in the small town of Alentejo, Portugal, against the backdrop of the early 2010s, a period marked by economic recession, we meet 13-year-old André, whose daily life is far from typical. Instead of socializing with his peers, he assists his father in the laborious task of well drilling. One day, André's father vanishes without a trace, leaving the young boy completely alone. In his desperate quest to locate him, André has to turn to Sandra, their neighbor whom he barely knows. While this initial setup may evoke expectations of a roadmovie akin to Walter Salles’s Central Station (1998), Simão Cayatte's Drifter takes a different direction: there is no space for magical realism, only somber and mundane reality.

At some point, the boy's narrative temporarily pauses to make room for the gradual revelation of the woman's story. We witness the consequences of her irresponsible behavior, leading to the loss of custody over her daughter and even her job. Rather than offering help, society condemns and publicly vilifies her — mothers are not allowed to make mistakes. Surprisingly, a parallel emerges between the boy and the woman. Both are souls adrift, the son abandoned by his father and the mother estranged from her daughter. Maybe these two scarred individuals really needed each other. The film's use of a 4:3 frame and numerous close-ups aims to highlight the expressive gestures and faces of the characters. The actors' performances gain a central role in the film. Simão Cayatte's background in acting, including his early childhood appearances on the screen and later collaborations with many esteemed authors, likely contributed to his adeptness in working with actors and crafting convincing characters. The director dedicates the film to places from his childhood. A striking and captivating, yet harsh and stern area, where even the water is scarce. With its empty and desolate scenery, Alentejo becomes the third main character of the film, echoing the abandonment felt by André and Sandra.

Alexander Melyan