The job of any member on a police force is to de-escalate a situation. Or at least that’s what we hope to expect. In a system, that in itself, is designed to hurt the underprivileged — it’s also unfortunately expected for members of these institutions to blindly follow orders upon command. More often than not, those who join this field tend to lack a specific amount training, whenever a confrontation of great distress comes to fruition. There’s a reason why so many people from around the globe have been protesting for police reform as of late — demands for a new system that is specifically designed to keep its force in check, and to verify the needs of its civilians. And yet, very little judicial progress has been made. Ironic, isn’t it? But sometimes, the key to protest is to create meaningful and impactful art. Art that influences the media and cultural sphere, which would later translate as a form of political advocation. In the case of Xavier Beauvois’ latest feature, the renowned auteur returns with a very similar critical talking point.
Drift Away is a film about many things. It’s a film about regret and remorse, but also an intriguing commentary on the psychological toll in which the police force creates against its victims and staff. It’s a modern-day curse, in which Beauvois cleverly takes inspiration from other contemporary works. The structural basis of Drift Away is adapted from the iconic poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Infusing a modern allegory on police brutality onto the original text of the written piece, the staggering comparisons in structure and tone between the poem and film are evident throughout the film’s steadfast direction. One could even argue that Beauvois’ clever adaptation adds even more nuance to the original text. Now with a deeper and more revamped social commentary to amplify its statements on the lack of training and reform within the police force — the original poem is given a more justified and modern treatment.
The original text also adds a level of sophistication to a story that could have clearly gone in a far more insensitive and cop-glorifying direction. For the most part, Drift Away doesn’t sanitise its recount of events. But most importantly, the film doesn’t add any form of aesthetic or other flashy detail to its profound setup. Whilst the opening act does contain a few too many subplots that merely detracts from the adaptation of the original Mariner poem — Beauvois never relies on cheap theatrics for needless shock value. If anything, the film’s dragged opening act could have been presented instead with different POV’s from the civilians who occupy the small Northern France-set municipality. By adding different interpretations and points of view on Laurent’s behaviour, the film would have opened a more broader and objective dialogue upon the film’s cathartic commentary and revelations.
Bringing home the literature allusions and visual allegories featured in the film, Beauvois also cleverly integrates the metaphor of a sailing ship within the narrative interplay. Just like the police force, the structure of a boat seems sturdy, sophisticated, and impressively constructed from afar. But when faced at sea — with the clashing of violent waves and other marine obstacles — the boat becomes sinkable. Though, the thing with boats is that there’s always a chance to repair its foundation. The same can be said about police reform. It’s just that unlike a boat, decades of systematic trauma is far more complicated to repair, then revamping and modifying a ship’s bow. Perhaps that is exactly what Beauvois wanted to state with Drift Away; a film that criticises its own depicted system through the power of literary and cinematic devices.
Dir: Xavier Beauvois
Runtime: 115 minutes
Drift Away is set to compete for the prestigious Golden Bear award at this year’s 71st Berlinale. Pathé will release the film in the coming months.