Land

****

Reviewed by: Jeremy Mathews

Land
"The setup may call to mind other films about women starting life anew in beautiful exotic locales — let’s say Tuscany for example. However, Land puts forth a quieter and darker tone." | Photo: Daniel Power/Focus Features LLC 2020

The peacefulness of isolation goes head-to-head with the undeniable importance of friendship in Robin Wright’s Land. Wright and co-star Demián Bichir deliver great performances that prove some of the truest and most moving human moments can also be the quiet and simple ones. And that applies whether we’re alone or with friends and family.

In her feature directorial debut, Wright stars as Edee, who leaves city life behind to settle in a cabin in the mountain regions of Alberta, Canada. From the brief introductory scenes, we see a comfortable life that doesn’t lack amenities. But massive depression has overcome her, and the abrupt change of lifestyle is a last-ditch effort to recover.

The setup may call to mind other films about women starting life anew in beautiful exotic locales — let’s say Tuscany for example. However, Land puts forth a quieter and darker tone. The character has suffered an intense tragedy — its details aren’t immediately clear but the severity comes across thanks to the writing and Wright’s performance. It’s not out of the question that she intends her retreat to result in a sort of passive suicide.

When Edee arrives, she has her rental car returned despite warnings that she should definitely have a vehicle, as there are acres separating her from any neighbours. Armed with a lot of canned chili and some hunting tools but little know-how, she sets forth to live self-sufficiently and learn her way around the land. Nature being nature, it provides moments of serenity as well as moments of danger. Edee is definitely not a comedically inept city girl — she’s committed too the difficult tasks at hand — but she’s also inexperienced and ignorant of how difficult it can be to weather a winter storm, let alone a bear attack.

Bichir’s character, Miguel, enters the scene at the precise moment that Edee gets in too far over her head — a reminder we can’t do everything by ourselves. Another solitary figure, Miguel gets Edee her needed medical attention, while being kindly respectful of her demand for solitude. At the Sundance virtual Q&A, Wright said it was not her intent to star in the film as well as direct, but the way the schedule came together made that the easiest option. But the forced self-casting may have been fortunate, because she and Bichir have a great rapport together.

The relationship isn’t a romance per se, but it’s based around palpable affection and gratitude. Part of what makes it so touching is humanity’s undeniable need for connection. Even when you’re determined to be alone with yourself, connections find a way to develop. Miguel also has scars from before, and even when he and Edee aren’t explicitly talking about what happened to them, they have a mutual understanding of their tragic pasts.

Perhaps the most iffy move in the film’s structure is withholding the details of that past, even when giving us flashbacks. Ultimately, it earns the emotional payoff because the revelation ties into the arc of the relationship, but it teeters on exploiting tragedy as a dramatic punch.

Fortunately Wright’s direction is too centered on the characters to ruin the moment. She tells much of the story with the quiet sound and striking beauty of nature, confidently resisting the urge to overplay the emotional high notes. And, as an actress, she’s smart enough to know when to let her and Bichir’s work speak for itself.

Reviewed on: 15 Feb 2021
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The poignant story of one woman’s search, in the aftermath of an unfathomable event, for meaning in the vast and harsh American wilderness.

Festivals:

Sundance 2021

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