Berlinale 2021: Albatros (Drift Away)

Laurent is a good cop in a small town in Normandy, where little ever happens. The police work may be on the dull side but his recent engagement to Marie means his personal life makes up for it. Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and Marie (Marie-Julie Maille) have already been together long enough to share a home and a daughter, Poulette (Madeleine Beauvois), who was excited to be part of the low-key proposal. But then things take a turn for the more interesting.

A local farmer goes missing, armed with a rifle and seemingly suicidal after a series of failed inspections that threaten his livelihood. This being a small town, the farmer is known to Laurent, a friend. Laurent is obviously very motivated to have this man found safely, but does his familiarity cloud his judgement? When the farmer is eventually located, it leads to an altercation, resulting in Laurent discharging his weapon in an effort to prevent the farmer from taking his own life. Laurent kills him.

The aftermath is as messy as you’d expect. Everyone agrees it was an accident, but was it reckless? Negligent? The farmer’s sister obviously thinks so; she’s suing both Laurent and the force. Thrown into self-doubt, recrimination, and emotional turmoil, Laurent takes off on a journey he must take alone. Which, honestly, is where the film lost me. Up until it veers off into a very different direction, I was enjoying this slow-burn character study. Renier kept things dignified, stoic but just expressive enough to hint at upheaval behind the façade. Unfortunately, director Xavier Beauvois muddies the water with some confusing and unnecessary subplots, taking away from the power and potency of Renier’s performance.

Albatros’s final moments redeem some of its earlier mistakes but there’s no way the film needed to be two hours long, which seems to dilute the urgency and impact of what should have been the movie’s central themes. Albatros is a good idea unevenly executed, not quite saved from a stellar star performance.

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