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‘Drive My Car’: Robin’s movie review

A movie poster in French for “Drive My Car.” Two images are stacked on top of each other. The top image shows a woman’s side profile while driving a car. The bottom image shows a man’s side profile while sitting in a car.
Bitters End

For this week’s Movie Minutes, Robin Holabird takes a look at a Japanese film that showed up on many top 10 lists — including her own.

COVID concerns cause enough worries about how to release movies. Tack on a three-hour running time with Japanese dialogue, much of it translated from the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya, and those worries expand like a sponge in water. Long, talky, ordinary action. Those descriptions suit Drive My Car, due this month for a more widespread U.S. release.

Despite initial limited viewing opportunities, Drive My Car showed up on many 10 best lists, including my own, plus recently earned nominations not just for the best foreign-language Oscar, but in the running as overall best picture. Substantiating that recognition comes Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s nomination as best director. He and his movie deserve those nods.

Watching the film a few months before all the hype, I vaguely expected some connection to the Beatles song, “Drive My Car.” Lightweight and amusing. Wrong! Themes of love and loss, emptiness and fullness, menial labor and artistic expression go way beyond any pop song. These big-scaled ideas come in a straightforward format from a short story rather than epic novel.

Effective simplicity often disguises detailed complications, and Drive My Car succeeds on many levels, juxtaposing the differences between realities and beliefs, wants and needs. Much of this happens in what initially seems a basic setting: modern-day Hiroshima. But its explosive history means Hiroshima never qualifies as uncomplicated, and the city’s reputation lends underlying emotion to the story’s characters and their interactions.

Also interwoven throughout the story, dialogue and scenes from the playwright Anton Chekhov add heft to events with his proven masterpiece that explores mundane lives. Following a similar direction as Chekhov, Drive My Car speeds past the ordinary into extraordinary terrain.

Robin Holabird is KUNR’s entertainment reviewer, author, and former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office. You can browse a full archive of her reviews here.

Robin Holabird reviews movies for KUNR, and her reviews have aired for more than 30 years. During that time, she has had a high profile in the Nevada film community.
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