To one’s dismay, Ben Bond’s new film The Drifters has very little to do with the 1950’s RnB group of the same name. No ‘Under the Boardwalk’ here. What is displayed here is a new take on lovers on the lam. One that is quick to highlight the new state of Brexit Britain, albeit the same prejudices here would not feel that out of place in a Brit flick of the 1980s.
Completed in 2019 (according to the IMDB) yet unleased until this year, The Drifters handily comes out after Melina Matsoukas’ Queen and Slim (2019) and would make an interesting double bill. Describing itself as a love story about identity and place in a post-Brexit Europe, The Drifters, much like Queen and Slim, seems to ask questions about who has the right to life and love in a western world which is quickly shedding its desire to hide its prejudice.
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Koffee (Jonathan Ajayi) and Fanny (Lucie Bourdeu) meet in English language class and quickly build a friendly bond between them. Said union is quickly placed under pressure when Koffee commits a crime that goes wrong in a dramatic fashion, leaving his boss in the dirt and the young African migrant on the run. Fanny, a bratty French girl with aspirations of heading to Hollywood to meet Quentin Tarantino and become the next Uma Thurman, decides to run away with him to the outskirts of Devon, with little more than the money in their pocket and their passports in their hands. Their relationship however is on borrowed time as their idyllic coastal paradise looks set to be disrupted by the reappearance of Koffee’s boss, Doog (Joey Akubeze).
The Drifters makes more than a few surface references to Quentin Tarantino. His breakthrough hit Pulp Fiction appears more than once. A reminder of just how ubiquitous the director and his early work was for many a first-time filmmaker. It is not hard to see the Tarantino scripted True Romance influence the basis of the story. However, The Drifters is no lazy call back compendium to the only film geek people know the name of. The film’s aesthetic style and gallic characters scream of Tarantino’s own early influence: The French New Wave.
The film drenches itself in the devil may care attitudes of Godard’s Breathless (1960) and Pierrot Le Fou (1965). In both aesthetic and narrative approach. The bold credit and subtitle fonts. The uses of colour filters and freeze frames. At one moment Fanny breaks the fourth wall to talk about the uselessness of adverts in a way that winks so much to the idea of postmodernism that the eye waters. Once the lovers make their way to the beaches of Devon, Bond’s film takes things easy on the narrative front, filling scenes with playful interactions between the two leads. They paint each other’s faces. They bicker. They hazily plan their next meals and improbable futures, with the audience knowing full well that their relationship is on borrowed time. It is a lazy doom that reminds a viewer fondly of Belmondo and Seberg.
Is 2019 Devon ever going to as cool as 60s Paris? Not bloody likely. But it is one of the clear points the film wishes the viewer to consider. The French New Wave aesthetics used against the British location faintly highlighting the co-operative feelings that some sense will be lost due to Britain’s wish to go it alone. Further conflict comes to the couple by the way of casual xenophobia by the way of a leave voting fisherman. Only recognising the worth in the couple when it benefits himself.
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Despite its unhurried pace, the film never fully earns the emotional pull that it is looking for in its running time. The relationship between Fanny and Koffee is cute but seemingly leaves the viewer at arm’s length. The languid telling of the lover’s story is told with colourful compositions and two engaging performances. Yet a telegraphed decision late on not only feels arbitrary but feels needless in the scheme of the intended story. Although it is a moment that possibly comments on Britain’s desire to make an overall claim to the identity of others while exhibiting and minimising their own bigotry. Nevertheless, from a plot perspective, it is a moment that only highlights some of the disjointedness of Bond’s overall story.
This doesn’t fully disarm The Drifters, however. The film is as good looking and charming as its lead duo. Ajayi and Bourdeu may never reach the iconic heights of Belmondo and Seberg, but with The Drifters there’s a sense that they wish to try and carry on the spirit. That’s no bad thing.