Sundance 2021: Land, by David Bax
Early on in Land, it begins to feel like first-time feature film director Robin Wright (she also helmed a hefty number of House of Cards episodes) is leaning a little too hard on indie signifiers, like the au courant 1.66:1 aspect ratio or a wispy, folky cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” by The Staves (for what it’s worth, I like The Staves but this cover is corny). Once Wright and her character, Edee, start to settle into the film’s themes and occurrences, though, Land becomes a thoughtful, warmhearted and promising debut.
For reasons that she will eventually bring herself to speak aloud, Edee has decided to abandon everything about her life (she severs the last tie when she tosses her phone into a public garbage can) and move into a cabin in the Wyoming mountains. Marked by occasional leaps forward in time–months pass in between cuts–Land covers Edee’s first year and a half or so in the wilderness, nearly dying in the early days and then eventually finding help in what passes for a neighbor in these parts, Miguel (Demián Bichir).
In its relatively lengthy first act (the entire movie comes in at under 90 minutes), Land takes the form of a “big star, little talking” movie like J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Wright’s work as an actor that her expressive physicality and complex face are more than up to the task of carrying this section. As director, she brings further insight, expertly capturing, for instance, the way that the sounds of nature–so often presented as soothing–can be threatening and ominous to those accustomed to the city’s din.
As Land transitions from a solo vehicle to a two-hander, Bichir brings both a tender intelligence and a bit of the goofy sense of humor he’s displayed in movies like The Heat and The Hateful Eight. Miguel spends most of the movie with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” stuck in his head, humming or singing it in nearly every one of his scenes, a touch that’s both charming and bizarrely specific. Between this and last year’s Tesla, the Tears for Fears song is having a bit of a cinematic moment.
Edee and Miguel’s friendship not only saves her but provides the film with its simple but heartfelt point of view. No person walks through their life alone and any attempt to do so–however selfless the motivation–puts undue pressure on others. Land makes an austere argument for the responsibilities we owe to one another as human beings.