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Footprints on the sand come so close to advancing shorelines that they are eventually erased by those advancing waves. Opening moments of Anthony Chen’s “Drift,” however, this meditative beginning becomes a precursor for a film whose initial intrigue turns into a deluge.

Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo) is in flux–homeless, alone and defenseless. She is a Liberian woman who has found herself in Greece bathing tourists’ feet on the beach for some euros and hiding away at night on parts of the waterfront where no one stays. Blankly following Jacqueline throughout her day as she scrounges for meals and aimlessly wanders through time, Chen’s movie starts with very little dialogue. We occasionally see flashbacks revealing Jacqueline was from a wealthy Liberian family but had been living in London. How did she get to Greece? When asked by an interested tourist Jacqueline response is “Same as anyone. Plane, ferry … luck.” And that’s it.

It cannot be enough. Specifically because these flashbacks show us that while visiting her home country of Liberia, Jacqueline had to flee during conflict only taking with her memories of trauma. The film does not provide any context as to what war or conflict this is. If you’re not historically tapped in (or motivated to Google after the film has wrapped), you wouldn’t know about Liberia’s civil war, which ended in 2003. But “Drift” does nothing to establish itself within a time period. It doesn’t even suggest anything other than it being present day and this slip is quite smug.

Her trauma constitutes the center of the film as much as her Blackness but neither aspect receives adequate attention. The implied outcome would be that there would be disinterest around the origins surrounding her war-ravaged home; therefore media portrays Africa as poor places annihilated by violence— with no further comment. Jacqueline haunts Greece’s beaches like a ghost to the well-off Caucasian holiday makers while being instantly visible to the city’s local inhabitants who spot her immediately as she tries to grab food from their eateries or, as cops, apprehend and interrogate her.

Ousmane (Ibrahima Ba) is another African man who at times seems like he might pop up out of nowhere (to unbelievable degrees). Who is he? We don’t know, but he always has her back. Even Jacqueline’s hyper-vigilance can be seen by her bobbing and weaving through streets in a futile attempt to evade him. Their bond is represented by the fact that they are both black or more accurately African, yet in some scenes “Drift” treats him as an accessory symbol or plot device. Callie (Alia Shawkat) an American tour guide with an open and self-deprecating personality serves as the true connection of this film for Jacqueline whose defensive walls it breaks down.

This relationship is the most realistic aspect of “Drift” and Jacqueline’s mercurial readiness to submit to this. This gives us an opportunity to see her being open and vulnerable as well as getting some insight about her through how she interacts with others and gradually lets herself out. The loss of relationships, for instance, between Jacqueline, her London girlfriend Helen (Honor Swinton Byrne), her family or those that have been lost makes “Drift” seem like it is somewhat eloquently expressing how the past lives influence the future ones with regards to stagnation that results from trauma. Shawkat brings a little cheerfulness in an otherwise sad film that moves slowly and appears quite dull ending up into scenes with her. However, Erivo pulls off the expressiveness required by the limited dialogue in the movie but I feel that by confronting a meek girl who seems somewhat helpless, the character is cornered by this script. The flashbacks give us glimpses of happiness such as taking train trips with her girlfriend or dancing outside with Shawkat Erivo’s sister, but a present doe-eyed fear of what will happen next and reactive panic make these just fragmented seconds whereas they are fleeting moments. If Drift asked fewer questions without answers, then it would allow for a more sympathetic lead; however its context lacks depth making everything be at surface level.

Chen’s voyeuristic direction is in tune with Susanne Farrell and Alexander Maksik’s script on thematic basis but overall “Drift” has a development problem for me. It tosses bits of plot without supporting them with adequate information whatsoever so not only does it lack understanding therebetween but also it doesn’t tug at your mind much visually because of its blase visual style. The paucity in both dialogue and history makes the spareness of language sense out sensibly small portions at a time. “Drift” wants you to realize just how much it’s making you feel, so everything feels cheap. Moreover, in a lean narrative, the moments of dark brutality carry densest lines of text and the most vivid images left behind on screen that seem to have desired manipulation and exploitation over human aftermath as being the film’s chief focus rather than traumatic impact.

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