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The Plains

A series of car journeys from work to home begin to reveal a life lived of apparent routine but interesting depth - from the International Film Festival Rotterdam


This is a really boring film. For the most part, it consists of a single camera set up in the back of a car which records a series of commutes from Andrew’s place of work to the suburbs of Melbourne. The first ten minutes he’s just driving on his own, phoning his wife and his mum who is in a care home and listening to the radio. A younger colleague David joins him on a few of the journeys and they talk. Awkwardly at first. They both work for a legal firm and neither of them are particularly happy about it. Especially a superior called Marie who comes in for some stick. Andrew has a bit of a ‘know it all’ air to him, his voice not that different from the talk radio. Some of the conversation is so banal you might want to try and bite your own ears off. How common are red cars? It’s like Peter Kay’s Car Share but without the jokes, or Peter Kay. So it’s just basically a car share.

And yet… and yet. There is something genuinely fascinating about this film too. You gradually get to know all about Andrew and David. Andrew has a long marriage to Cheri and his mother is dying from dementia in a nursing home in Adelaide. David has just broken up with his girlfriend and is living with friends. He might apply to the bar and set up his own practice. Andrew has a whole thing with his sisters. And again his mother seems to be deteriorating. The infrequent cuts always come as something of a shock. How comfortable we seem to have become as backseat passengers, listening in. Then suddenly Andrew’s on his own again with only the company of the radio. When he’s alone his conversation with his wife are a little longer and a little more tender. He’s brusque when David’s in the car and jokes about Cheri in a plaintive way. Some of the cuts take us out of the car altogether albeit briefly. Once released from the confines of the backseat we soar into the sky on one of Andrew’s drones which he delights in using to take shots of the countryside. Very late in the film he’ll show some of these films to David and there’s the strangely dizzy feeling of the film setting up a state of infinite regress.

We also get to know Andrew’s commute. The two speed bumps before he gets to the first intersection. The tricky run on to the motorway. The part where there always seems to be a traffic jam. The weather changes and with it the city and you get a feel for the rhythms of life, the hum of a humdrum routine. The near three hour running time makes me wonder: would anybody’s conversation become interesting once you learn to listen and watch intently? David Easteal, the director and I’m assuming Andrew’s passenger, leaves Andrew in the driving seat. We don’t really get to see much of either of them: just the backs of necks and what the rear view mirror occasionally reveals. At one point a drone’s point of view zooms down to Andrew’s house where he’s sitting controlling it on the porch. It looms into Cherie’s face with a jokey/aggressive insistence. Ironically it makes Cherie into the most seen face of the whole film.

At the risk of being repetitive, this is a boring film. And yet boring and interesting are not necessarily mutually exclusive – ask Steve Davis. Towards the end David scratches at Andrew’s story of decades long monogamy and finds there might have been another love long ago. But when David asks him to tell that story, Andrew for once clams up: ‘Let’s just enjoy the drive, David.’ The weird thing is I kind of did.

The International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) is an online edition running from 26 January to 6 February.

By John Bleasdale - 28-01-2022

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

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