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Sundance 2021 ‘Land’ Review: A Simple But Contemplative Look at Grief and Healing

Sundance

Searching for a most extreme solitude in the face of inconceivable grief, Edee (Robin Wright) has retreated to an unrelentingly remote piece of land. Deep in the belly of the Rockies, she uses harshness as a balm for her biting psychological pain. It might not be real healing, but she finds it more palatable than the sympathetic comfort of others. Bruised and blistered, she lives somewhat self-destructively in a place she is woefully unprepared for. The desolation of winter eats quickly into her as the rawness of her emotion becomes buried beneath frozen numbness. Such absence of feeling is a relief in some ways, but it also fuels her self-sabotage – Edee has neglected herself into a husk of a person and allowed bleakness to instruct her death. 

There is a valuable discussion in here about suicide and self-destruction and how difficult it is to stand beneath the weight of such loss. The passivity of that destructive nature, how she tosses her phone in the trash and guarantees she is alone enough that no one will try to stop her or save her (so she thinks, at least). That when the work of surviving fails to make her forget her grief, that work becomes too exhaustive. That she then lets herself get battered and flattened by the merciless nature of the elements until she is hardly a person any longer. 

Unwittingly rescued by the warm Alawa (an underused Sarah Dawn Pledge) and perpetually generous Miguel (Demián Bichir), she is peeled from the frost-hardened floor. Her metaphorical rebirth is perhaps a bit lacking in subtlety given just how tenderly Edee is nursed back to health, but it is affecting just the same. She flinches from their compassion almost immediately, but despite her staunch aversion to companionship, she allows Miguel to teach her how to hunt and live in a place so severe as this one. A friendship is thus formed between them with painstaking care. She even calls him Yoda in a fond reference to how much he has taught her. 

Land tackles just how callous and difficult the processes of healing are, especially when it comes to such an immense and consuming kind of mourning. Yet as much as the first half cracks open all kinds of hurt and trauma, the latter half flounders. For something so messy and unrestrained, the ending is disconcertingly clean. When that desperate rawness is gone, the film becomes much more mundane and reflective of familiar narratives – particularly that specific genre of white women using wilderness as an escape. This is partially due to most of the directorial choices being conventional and relatively safe. Still, the cinematography by Bobby Bukowski is beautifully contemplative, intelligently meshing together the tranquility and unimaginable brutality of the landscape. The accompanying score is just as thoughtful. But the performances prove the film’s most exceptional element. Such a deep dive into character allows Wright to do her very best work as an actor. Every breath of her performance is deeply felt and brimming with authenticity. Bichir’s is equally as skillful, incorporating some lovely character work. 

This is certainly a film that demands patience, especially when themes of uncompromising pain give over to swift and idealistic resolution. Although much of it feels like it could cut deeper and hit harder, Land is a sincere and solid first feature from Wright. 

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Jenna Kalishman

Jenna Kalishman is a writer and student at Colorado College pursuing English and film studies. She especially loves morally questionable female characters, Stevie Nicks, sapphic yearning, and Rachel Weisz's energy in The Favourite.

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