Oscars 2022: “Drive my car”, a History About Regret

The Oscars will be awarded tonight at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. To end our special reviews of the productions nominated in the Best Film category, here is our review of "Drive my car".

Still from the movie 'Drive my Car'

Photo: YT-MUBI

LatinAmerican Post | Staff

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Leer en español: Óscars 2022: “Drive my car”, sobre el arrepentimiento

"Drive my car" is a Japanese film directed and co-written by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi. It is the first production from this country to be nominated for the Best Picture category at the Oscars. In addition, the film is also nominated in the categories of Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Foreign Film. It is an adaptation of a story by Haruki Murakami, from his collection of stories "Men Without Women".

Indeed, "Drive my car" is about a man who has lost a woman. Its protagonist, Yūsuke Kafuku, is a man who has lost his wife and is now on his way to Hiroshima to direct a multilingual play. It is "Uncle Vanya" by Anton Chekhov, in which he was acting years ago when his wife died. The festival that has invited him to direct the play assigns him a silent driver. This annoys Kafuku since it is a creative ritual to rehearse his lines and memorize the entire play in his car while driving. However, he accepts and in the company of the young driver, Misaki Watari, experiences a moment of transformation and repentance while directing the play.

Read also: Oscars 2022: The tenderness of "Belfast"

Acceleration and brake: the rhythm of "Drive my car"

Perhaps the highlight of the film is its pace. It lasts three hours and the rhythm is leisurely, slow. It has a longer introduction than Western audiences may be used to. During the first forty minutes we see the life of Kafuku with his wife Oto: she is a television scriptwriter and he is a theater actor. She makes up stories at night during or after sex with her husband and he reminds her of them the next day so she can write them down. The last of these stories is that of an intruder girl who enters the house of her school sweetheart when no one is there. One day she decides to masturbate in the boy's bed and hears someone enter the house. The story is left unfinished because Oto reaches orgasm.

We know from these early sequences that Kafuku and Oto love each other and share not only their lives but also their creative curiosities. We also know that she is unfaithful to him and that he knows it. We can also see, from a conversation they have, that she would not be the only woman Kafuku will have lost, since they have also lost a daughter. One day, Oto tells Kafuku to have a talk when he gets home from work. He, scared, drives away from home after work, he doesn't want to arrive. When he arrives, Oto has died of a brain hemorrhage.

It seems here that the whole movie has already been told, but this is just the beginning. This long introduction and Oto's death is what kicks off the real action of "Drive my car". Two years after Oto's death, Kafuku is a lonely and sad man. He is invited to direct a multilingual play for a festival and drives to the residence. They assign him Watari, the young chauffeur who will drive his car.

The background of the film is Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya", which is the one Kafuku is directing. The path of acceptance and repentance that the protagonist will undertake, in the company of his driver, who will also embark on his own path of discovery, happens in parallel with the production of the play and with the play itself. At the beginning of the residence, the actors, among whom is one of Oto's old lovers, must only read, without acting. In these readings, the actors read only the first act of Chekhov's play. Throughout this first moment of the film, Kafuku goes in the car listening to the cassettes and reviewing the work while Watari goes in silence.

The film then has a second moment, in which the actors already rehearse outside the classroom. There they perform the second act of Chekhov's play. By this point, Kafuku is already having conversations with Watari, and the two of them have shared a couple of personal things. She attends rehearsals. Finally, it is not only when Kafuku hears the end of his late wife's unfinished story from his old lover that the play can finally end. Thus, we see the end of Chekhov's play already performed on stage, and we see Watari in the audience.

Thus, "Drive my car" has a slow but thoughtful rhythm that is marked by the work directed by the protagonist and that, without realizing it, will also mark the rhythm of his own path: that of accepting the death of his wife and of the regret of having driven away that day of his death. This, in addition to being beautiful, reveals the contradictions of the main character, who is a theater director who must set the pace of his work (in one scene it is he himself who suggests to his actors that they read slower), but he must also, on this occasion, let go of the rudder, let someone else drive him. Only in that scenario, in which someone else is driving his car, is he able to hear and tell his story.

Will he win the Oscar?

When there is a foreign film of great renown and success, the Academy usually awards it the award for Best Foreign Film. However, the 2019 ceremony set a precedent: "Parasite" was awarded in the most important category of these awards, thus becoming the first Korean film to win this award. This precedent may mean that while it is difficult for them to get nominations, foreign films can be awarded by the Academy when they are undeniably good.

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