Drift: Busan Review

A vaguely unstructured exercise in visual storytelling anchored by a strong central performance.

Belgian director Benny Vandendriessche returns with a mediative drama about a desperate drifter seeking redemption.

The modern ruins of post-communist Romania form the backdrop for a man’s quest for redemption and, possibly, punishment following his wife’s death after a long illness in Benny Vandendriessche’s Drift, an esoteric and somewhat opaque meditation on loss and grief.

Beginning with typically Scandinavian aesthetic defined by a dour, snowy palette -- despite being a Dutch/Belgian co-production -- the film jumps back and forth through time as we learn what takes The Drifter (Dirk Hendrikx) from seemingly contented Everyman to transient loner on the verge of madness.

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The films begins with the man literally drifting at sea and is followed by a history of how the stray dogs that populate Romania got there. The animals then serve as the backbone of an extended metaphor likening The Drifter’s increasingly untethered, roaming existence as he is slowly coming to grips with the loss of his partner with the marginalized dogs that become his only companions.
The disjointed, almost picaresque narrative comes together slowly and silently as the true nature of The Wife’s (Lieve Meeussen) death becomes clear.

Though the wife remains a mystery, Vandendriessche does a superb job of realizing a comfortable, healthy relationship between the two, making his grief palpable.

Hendrikx and Meeussen have a playful, comfortable dynamic that makes their devotion to each other clear in just a few scenes. That’s unsurprising given the majority of Drift is told through its visuals and the sometimes vivid and evocative photography by Carl Rottiers, with Hendrikx’s committed performance frequently coming to the rescue when the film borders on hysterical.

Even at a brief 80-odd minutes, Drift boasts an awful lot of filler, as sequences drag on and on, giving rise to the idea it would be a better medium-length film than feature. Nonetheless Vandendriessche -- who is an accomplished commercial and music video director in his native Belgium -- has a sharp eye for image and an appreciation for unconventional composition and use of off-screen space that ultimately helps make The Drifter’s headspace believably scattered and flirting with utter disintegration -- if not wholly relatable.

Busan International Film Festival, Flashforward
Cast: Dirk Hendrikx, Lieve Meeussen, Constantin Cojocaru
Director: Benny Vandendriessche
No rating, 83 minutes