directed by HELENA WITTMANN // Germany // 95 minutes
With a gossamer thread, Helena Wittmann fashions a scant narrative with her feature-length debut, Drift; delicate and nearly non-existent, it is the type of film that leans heavily towards capturing and expressing a certain sense of mood or feeling while the narrative aspects laze in the periphery as Wittmann experiments with the transformative effects of imagery and nature.
The crux of Drift’s storyline is simple; so simple that it barely registers as a storyline, just only meeting the requirements to be labeled as such. Two women, played by Theresa George (also co-writer) and Josefina Gill, part ways after time spent in each other’s company – a pleasant spell of relaxation and comfort – with each woman going their own respective ways. Josefina returning to Argentina. While Theresa sets out to travel across the Atlantic Ocean, it is during this transatlantic excursion that Wittmann experiments and attempts to present a physical journey as something more.
The bulk of the action beforehand is comprised of a series of quiet moments, elliptical in their presentation, wafting in and out of a storyline unfussed about development nor importance, content in merely being and of the moment. Simple scenes on the shoreline, recounting mythological tales over dinner, smoke breaks on the balcony, all taking place with a peaceful joviality.
Drift goes about its business like a slice-of-life with slow cinema stylings, up until the point that Theresa embarks upon her journey. Sure, the earliest portions of this endeavor are presented in much the same way but there comes a time wherein Wittmann unexpectedly changes the entire focus of the film itself and, with it, the entire feel of the film. At a certain point, Wittmann’s camera (she also happens to be the cinematographer) is regulated to the body of the vessel filming outward instead of inward towards any identifiable character – just filming the natural movements of the ocean.
Yes, the next third of the film, from that point forward, is nothing more than a camera rolling to the rhythms of the ocean.
Wittmann’s film becomes much like an ethnographic documentary during this particular stretch. Gone is the relationship between the two women; gone are the women entirely, for the most part. There is nothing except for the movement of the water, the horizon in the distance, and the ambient drone music accompaniment. The only variations in the visuals are marked by time and point of view changes, other than that, it is lumbering water rolling on end.
It is a simplistic, minimalist approach in conveying the fact that this particular trip has become a transformative one, effectively eliminating Theresa from the picture by focusing the film on the entity that is responsible for that transformation. Theresa is experiencing something much larger than herself and Wittmann correlates that experience with the film by having that experience overwhelm the production, abruptly taking precedence and re-regulating Theresa into an extraneous detail, semi-forgotten.
The power that lays within this spell of ebb and flow does not stop at simply influencing the film’s central character as it radiates outward engulfing and transforming the film as a whole while in the process, further extending its’ reach, attempting to alter the viewer’s own experience of the entire process like an inverse matryoshka doll with each intended target larger than the next. It is Wittmann’s attempt at lulling the viewer towards a newfound perspective and, thus, relating the experience of Theresa to the viewer.
At first, the ocean is as one expects, a gently rolling and swaying of never-ending blue until the light vanishes and that never-ending blue becomes an almost black streaked with a line of moonlight; then shifting further still, into a silver-shimmer speckled abstraction as the sunlight glints across its surface as Wittmann also appears to be exploring the complexity of the seemingly simplistic. Even on a surface-level look of an expanse of water one is able to yield a variety of results with minimal interference.
Coming out on the other side of this experimental tangent is Theresa, recalibrated, back home visiting and basking in the splendid natural landscapes it has to offer. Not before long, Drift is back where it started with the two women enjoying time together, albeit this time via long-distance video chat, making coffee with Donnie & Joe Emerson’s Baby playing through the speakers as the camera traverses the distance of their shared silence.