“Drive My Car”, the great sneak trip

Reading time: 5 min

There are films, more or less successful, which follow a marked path, of which we recognize in passing the points of support, landmarks and sequences. There are films, more or less successful, which constantly thwart the uses of narration, change register, the staging of which strives to undo the usual links between causes and effects.

And it’s Drive My Car , which seems built with classic, if not conventional, ingredients from story and realization, and never ceases to open unforeseen spaces, immense breaches, sometimes welcoming and sometimes disturbing, areas without lighthouses or beacons, but suitable for welcoming everyone’s dreams, everyone’s questions , everyone’s fears and desires.

It is said in Drive My Car that the name of the main character, theater director and actor Kafuku, in Japanese means “happiness in the home”. But, if the film will be constantly placed under the influence of Chekhov, of which Kafuku directs a production by Uncle Vanya , one can easily hear in his surname the japonization of Kafka.

In many respects, the cinematographic vertigo opening onto the abysses of humans that generates Ryūsuke Hamaguchi can be compared to literary vertigo in the guise of a linear novel that The Castle engenders or The Trial .

Happiness in the home can indeed be one of the very many facets by which to approach the film. Kafuku is happy in love with Oto, this woman who herself loves him infinitely, and who nevertheless cheats on him, which he has discovered. He is happy with her despite the tragedy that struck them almost twenty years earlier, and from which they have never really recovered. And then Oto is dead.

The living and the dead, the voices and the silences Every day, Kafuku listens to his voice, at the wheel of this object which also seems a metaphor for the whole film, his car. A car at first glance ordinary, but with the steering wheel on the left, unlike usual in Japan, and of a somewhat unique brand in this major vehicle producer country: a Saab 900 bright red, where soft and discreet colors reign.

Every day, Kafuku listens to the voice of Oto, who recorded all the text of Uncle Vania , to help him prepare his directing and the interpretation of the title role.

That a small accident, and a regulation in the air of decree of a few deities, force him to leave the wheel to Misaki, a mysterious young girl by dint of laconic and deferential efficiency, will be one of these displacements neither completely improbable nor really logical which do not cease to decenter the film.

Kafuku and Oto (Reika Kirishima), his beloved wife. | Diaphana

Gently, these shifts allow it to invent an imperfectly linear continuity, without ever any bifurcation, no acceleration, no braking seems an artificial jerk, a script or production coup.

Hamaguchi drives his film like Misaki drives the car, with a suppleness that Kafuku comes to recognize, at first reluctant to be dispossessed of the wheel.

Teenage girl, the young girl learned to drive, over there in the countryside far north, under the rule of a violent and half-mad mother, who beat her when she inflicted a jerk on the vehicle.

Three, five, ten stories It’s a story, another story, that by Misaki. Stories, there are three, five, ten that arise or surface slowly over Drive My Car. Some will become central to it, others will not.

This is by no means a peaceful film. There will be several violent deaths during the story, stories that make the film. The extreme softness is in the way of organizing these stories, these issues, these conflicts, of making them appear, answer each other, sometimes shed light and sometimes not, to better approach a world inhabited by dark forces, impulses, loneliness, guilt.

Kafuku is a renowned director, who usually plays the pieces he puts on by performers from different countries, each in his own language (with on -titling in the background). When selecting actors and actresses for Uncle Vanya , he makes a choice that adds another form of strangeness.

To the general surprise, including the person concerned, he chooses for the title role Takatsuki, the young first whom he knows to have been the lover of his wife, instead of playing himself as expected the embittered faint-hearted man who gives its title to the work of Chekhov.

Another addition-displacement: he entrusts one of the main female roles to a mute Korean actress, who expresses herself – admirably – in sign language of his country.

Takatsuki ( Masaki Okada), the young actor who loved the wife of the one who now directs him, by having given him the lead role on the boards to try to find a place in his own life. | Diaphana

This generalized “babbling” obviously does not only concern the staging of the play. It is, in many ways, the active principle of the whole film. Origins, physical abilities, ages, social functions, secrets repressed deep within oneself “speak” a myriad of languages, which most often believe they understand each other.

It will take a crisis, a perverse game between two men, neither of whom is mean, and above all a long journey, for a little translation to happen. The one who reconciles, at least partially, the two users of the red car, the young girl who drives and the mature man sitting first in the back, then next to her.

They are at the heart of the main narrative, after a magnificent sequence, where it is important that also figure a dog, shows another possibility of sharing, during a dinner at the house of the Korean assistant and his wife, the actress silent.

In the car during the journeys between her home and the rehearsal place, the voice of the dead woman plays all the roles of Chekhov’s play – all except that of Vanya, which was to be taken by Kafuku, so that he repeats his lines. With words other than his own, his words he had not spoken, with the words of the Russian playwright, he thus dialogues beyond death with the one he loved, who loved him and deceived him, and who is no longer there.

In the car, there are other ghosts, a very real little girl and an imaginary little girl, who also died tragically.

A delicate spell In the car like a protective cocoon or like a mental sarcophagus , around the rehearsal table of the play with the sharp challenge of the truth of a text, in a bar in front of glasses too filled with alcohol, along a succession of tunnels traversed at night without sleeping, in a field of pristine snow, it’s like countless journeys that a delicate spell would have melted into one.

It’s ironic that this film, which marks a huge accomplishment from the director already noticed for Asako I & II and for Tales of chance and other fantasies , this film, which was one of the most beautiful revelations of the Cannes Film Festival, received the Screenplay Prize there. Murakami, from the collection Men without women, from which he is inspired.

But it is obviously his staging that allows this miracle as composed of a multitude of emotional, significant, poetic layers, sensory, while constantly inventing the improbable and necessary unity.

Drive My Car

by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi

with Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tokô Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima


Duration: 2h 59

Released on 18 August 2021