The Drifters

 

starstarstar

 


A British homage to early Godard proves both superficial and hackneyed, albeit not without its pleasures.

 
Drifters, The

   
It has long been said that what goes around comes around and here we find the established writer and producer Ben Bond turning to directing with a screenplay of his own that deliberately evokes the French cinema of the Nouvelle Vague. Indeed, one can be even more precise than that as to his intention: The Drifters is a homage to the director Jean-Luc Godard and especially to such works of his as A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) (1959) and Pierrot Le Fou (1965). Also evoked by Bond's story are those movies built around a couple on the run, be their pursuers the police, a criminal out for revenge or (as is the case in The Drifters) both. Rather surprisingly these elements from a past age are linked to a love story that very much suggests a tale from today's headlines: that's because the couple are foreign migrants living in England - he, Koffee (Jonathan Ajayi), comes from Africa and she, Fanny (Lucy Bourdeu), is French and working as a waitress. It is Koffee who in return for receiving an Irish passport gets caught up in a crime organised by Doog (Joey Akuberge) and it is Doog who then pursues him when the robbery goes awry. While the early scenes take place in London, most of the film is set in the seaside town of Teignmouth where the couple, companions in the process of becoming lovers, hide out.

 

The story starts out very energetically but then suffers from the disadvantage that the second half comes to feel rather thin. However, the main issue here arises from the decision to dress it all up in Godardian clothes and the consequences that follow from that choice. It certainly helps that the two leading roles are well cast and that the film is blessed by good colour photography by Ben Moulden which makes the most of the setting. But the crucial factor is the style adopted. The film's energy comes from its speed and from the editing by Tommy Boulding which extends to a delight in jump cuts. This shooting mode in itself evokes Godard, added to which Bond also echoes the way in which Godard would reference books (Fanny is reading Treasure Island) and would include dialogue about cinema (here Tarantino and The African Queen are mentioned). Furthermore, instances of out-and-out stylisation echo the rule-breaking associated with Godard (a sudden address direct to the audience, the integration of more than one soundtrack song, the occasional use of sub-titles which are then given unusual prominence). Even closer to Godard are specific moments that echo key images from his films - these include Fanny donning a black wig, the couple daubing their faces blue and, most obviously of all, Fanny's juke-box dance to Patsy Cline's 'Crazy'.

 

Fans of Godard's first decade in cinema will undoubtedly find this intriguing but will also be aware that Bond can only provide a faint echo of the real thing. Bourdeu may be set up to remind us of Anna Karina - not least with that dance - but can only be a feeble second best. Ajayi is luckier in that Koffee is less obviously akin to the kind of role essayed for Godard by Jean-Paul Belmondo. But many viewers will not be familiar with those films by Godard and will miss out on this central feature altogether. Bond must be hoping that the vitality of the style will give The Drifters a freshness that is engaging in its own right, something that might appeal to younger audiences who are fans of, say, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver (2017). For half of its length this energy and the appeal of the two leads (it is actually Fanny who acts as the narrator of the tale) makes for lively viewing. To some extent it has been a triumph of style over substance so that when the films seems to stall in its plotting in the second half there is a distinct sense of diminishing returns. The film aims at romanticism but ultimately lacks emotional weight as cliché and contrivance take over and make the film seem over-extended despite the modest running length. The Drifters is out of the rut and not without its pleasures and for that it deserves some encouragement yet for me it doesn't really come off.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jonathan Ajayi, Lucie Bourdeu, Tia Bannon, Jonjo O'Neill, Joey Akubeze, Tom Street, Thom Pretty, Ariyon Bakare.

 

Dir Ben Bond, Pro Iona Sweeney, Screenplay Ben Bond, Ph Ben Moulden, Pro Des Humphrey Jaeger, Ed Tommy Boulding, Music Zero Vu, Costumes Georgina Napier.

 

Cove Pictures/Cretaive England/Starcross Entertainment-Central City Media.
91 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 2 April 2021. Virtual theatrical release and then on VOD from 5 April. Cert. 12.