Tyler Gaucheron-Land’s review published on Letterboxd:
Shot/ Reverse-shot has never been so perfectly utilised
This is 100%, without a single doubt, the greatest film of the year. If 2021 is to be summarised in movie history by a single film, I hope that Drive My Car gets to be that film. Despite being a film of stillness, it is also a film about change. Which, at least to me, perfectly captures our current zeitgeist so well. Hamaguchi has provided us with arguably the most therapeutic watch of the year, and I'm already wanting to go back and see it again. Not only one of the best three hour films I'll probably ever see, Drive My Car also made for one of the best and most profound experiences I had in the cinema.
I don't know why this seems to be a common occurrence, but when top quality films get to this length you almost never feel the time. It glides by, there's an impeccable sense of pacing even if you wanted to argue that the opening is a bit on the slow side. I never felt a single moment drag, because nothing is out of place. Even in the longer sections, like the amazing conversation between Kafuku and Takatsuki in the car is so perfectly shot and cut. The pacing is helped by those two aforementioned factors, as each moment is cut to perfection. Even if this on the surface is just people having conversations nonstop, the rhythm of each scene is like staring at a perfect object as my buddy Nathan put it. I cannot find a single fault in this film, even if some people aren't a fan of that final scene. The camera knows when to move to create a sense of motion within the emotionality of the picture, but it is bold enough to leave the camera still to reflect the beautiful glacial pacing of the story. An entire experience of small moments that culminate in ultimate catharsis, it is truly shocking to hear that in our modern landscape without a film appealing too hard to art-house conventions.
The performances are so perfect, that these simply do not feel like performances at all. Nobody is melodramatic at any point in this story, yet the people aren't too reserved that it comes across as an obvious artistic choice that is trying to say something. The balance is pulled off so well, because this is a film that is about people learning to overcome pain in a productive way. These performances all move through life, trying to move on and accept the nature of the troubles in their lives. I was so invested in all of these characters, because they feel so incredibly genuine. No one feels like they are there to fill a role in the narrative, as Drive My Car is one of those great works where any sense of formalism evaporates as you become absorbed into this very honest world. Of course it is down to the impeccable craft on all fronts that makes this one of the most beautiful films of the year, but it takes it to such a powerful level where you can talk about the feel of the film alone to get the point across that this is something special.
Drive My Car is about moving on with life and how important the mundanity of our lives should be treasured. Pardon the lazy comparisons, but I can't help but see how this feels like a wonderful continuation of what Ozu tackled in his later works. But like any brilliant film of this calibre, Hamaguchi isn't merely taking Ozu's formula and modernising it but instead knowing how to make it work for what an audience of today needs. At least for me, no other filmmaker does such a great job at valuing the mundane as Ozu, so that's probably where the comparison comes from. Hamaguchi holds back on anything that could be too schmaltzy or irritatingly sentimental. However, with the way the characters slowly get used to each other, it never feels like anything is being "held back", so to speak. If anything it comes across as more natural – traditional and rigid structures give way as each character begins to open up and process their pain in such a powerful way. That scene in the snow almost made me tear up, the emotional power in that moment is probably a contender for the scene of the year alone. Seeing all these loveable people slowly working through whatever hardships they have endured in the past feels totally earned by the end of the journey we've been taken on. God damn, I wasn't expecting something so uplifting through pure sincerity without the need for anything artificial. Hollywood better be taking notes from this one!
Getting to see this in the cinema was undeniably amazing. I always find with films of the subtler kind I don't normally pick up on the comedic elements when I'm watching them on my own. But in this collective experience, those smaller moments of nuance became a lot more apparent. It's the sort of thing you'd laugh at in a normal situation, which makes the writing even better than I may have realised if I didn't see Drive My Car this way. Moving to a bigger city for uni has made seeing films like this so much easier and I'm so glad for it. I don't know what everyone else thought apart from my housemate, but I hope that what I was feeling throughout this perfect film was felt throughout the room.
The importance of embracing each other and the complexities of our lives is on full display in Drive My Car. This is a film for the times of New Sincerity, a film for my generation. I'd like to see this again in a cinema with more comfortable seating, but that's so I didn't have to shuffle my position around every five minutes or so. I've already encouraged my mum to try and find somewhere to watch this in the cinema, and I'm going to get a physical copy of this when it comes out in February. I feel so much better about life, about myself, and about the world after seeing this. A film so mature in the way it tackles its very complicated subject matter that never gives in to a single cliché for three hours is mad to think of in our current times. I could probably circle around and reword the same few points about how sincere the film is and how important it is in a cultural context, but I'll wait for another watch to see if I can expand upon anything that I've written here or felt after coming out of the screening.
Drive My Car is already one of my new favourites, and I hope it goes on to become established as a modern classic (though I have questioned the legitimacy of such a term before). There are some films that I feel proud to have seen in the cinema when they came out, and this is up at the top of that list. Hamaguchi has captured everything that makes cinema so perfect for me, I simply have to see this again as soon as I possibly can.