Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a queer college freshman looking to make a name for herself. She overdoes it on her studies — frequently writing tests twice or three times in the time it takes everyone to do it once — and is obsessed with being the top of the pack. She joins the university’s rowing team in order to prove how much better she is than the rest of her teammates, and begins to push herself to physical and mental extremes in order to succeed. And she does not care who gets in her way of doing it.
In her debut feature, Writer/Director Lauren Hadaway has created a singular and hypnotic vision of the lengths one young woman takes to succeed. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year and was just nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Hadaway. I watched the film a few weeks ago on a whim, and found myself unable to look away from the intensely wild ride Hadaway has created. While it would be incredibly easy to compare it to Damien Chazelle’s unforgettable Oscar-winner Whiplash (and believe me when I say people have already started to), The Novice feel like it is so much more than that.
179 minutes. That’s how long Co-Writer/Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car is. I heard unanimous praise coming out of Cannes for the film — where it won Best Screenplay, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, not to mention being In Contention for the Palme d’Or — but all I could fixate on was the length. It was daunting and trying to schedule watching it during TIFF in September alongside 40+ other films was a logistical nightmare and a battle that I lost all too quickly. Instead, I just continued hearing the unanimous praise and continued seeing the film’s poster taunting me on Letterboxd as one of the “Highly rated films you’ve yet to see”.
So when the time came to finally watch Drive My Car a few weeks back, after it being chosen as Japan’s Best International Feature entry for the Academy Awards, I was filled with trepidation and anxiety. Adding to the pressure, multiple critics’ groups had started calling it the Best Foreign Language Film of the year and last week, the NYFCC straight up awarded it as the Best Film of the Year period. Could the film match what I had been picturing for months? Would I be able to watch it all in one sitting (quick answer: no)? How the hell did Hamaguchi and Co-Writer Takamasa Oe manage to turn Haruki Murakami’s short story into a 3 hour film?! All of these thoughts were swirling in my head, and continue to as I finally settle down to write this. It seemed patently wrong to dismiss it entirely because of its gargantuan running time. A film like this was too important not to watch.
While the pandemic is far from over, one of the few wonderful things that has happened is the ease of access some film festivals have created for online audiences watching from home. We no longer need to physically be in certain cities in order to see great films — we just simply need to point and click. While some festivals demand the sacred in-person experience not be destroyed under any circumstance, others have pivoted to a welcome hybrid model of in-person screenings and online on-demand screenings. The Whistler Film Festival, running December 1-31, 2021, is one such festival and is available to online audiences across Canada (an in-person portion of the festival concluded this past Sunday in Whistler). Films are available daily and can be viewed at any time before December 31, which will certain make festival planning alongside family holiday events a whole lot easier.
I was given the opportunity to sample three films prior to their online screening date, and have included a few of my thoughts on these films that could not be any more different below: