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Sundance 2021 Review: Land – “Shows the contrasting beauty and harshness of nature”

Robin Wright appears in Land by Robin Wright, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Daniel Power Copyright Focus Features LLC 2020.

Grief is a powerful motivator.  It can steer us in all sorts of directions.  Some may confide in others and get closer to those around them while others might retreat, might pull away.  After a family tragedy leaves her in a state of devastation, Edee (Robin Wright) takes her retreat to the extreme, leaving her life in Chicago behind to head to Wyoming.  She finds it difficult to be around people because they just want her to “be better” so she removes herself from anyone who might care.  She gathers supplies, ditches her phone, buys an old dilapidated cabin and then asks the previous owner to arrange for her rental car and trailer to be taken away.  He doesn’t think this is a good idea, no one should be out there without a vehicle.  And he’s right.

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Thing is, Edee isn’t overly worried about whether things work out or not (and seeing that she’s a city girl who can’t chop wood the NOT is looking much more likely).  Her grief is blinding her to the fact that, as determined as she is, nature is a powerful opponent.  The cabin is beyond roughing it, with no water, no electricity, a missing window, a leaking roof, and an outhouse far enough away to cause concern.  She’s kept awake by sounds at night, the rustling of wildlife outside her door, the call of the wolves in the distance.  As winter comes and supplies dwindle Edee’s resiliency only gets her so far, her life in desperate danger until another mountain dweller, Miguel (Demián Bichir) finds her and teaches her how to actually live off the land to survive.

While she directed multiple episodes of House of Cards, Land is Robin Wright’s feature directorial debut.  It’s a beautiful looking film with stunning cinematography from Bobby Bukowski.  Yes, it is difficult to make Alberta’s Rocky Mountains (standing in for Wyoming) look bad, but there are sweeping landscapes that literally take your breath away.  To see this on a big screen (instead of during the virtual festival) would have only amplified the effect of these majestic visuals.  When you then find out they shot this movie in only 29 days, with all kinds of harsh weather, the final product is only more remarkable.

It was never Wright’s plan to also be in front of the camera for this film, but the last-minute decision is the audience’s gain. For much of this film she is seen in quiet contemplation, yet there is never any question as to what Edee is feeling.  Land proves to be a good showcase for Wright’s considerable acting talents.  Her and Birchir have a wonderful chemistry, and the film keeps their relationship a platonic one built upon mutual admiration,  a welcome change from the typical which may have tried to add an unneeded romantic element here.  There isn’t a lot of dialogue between the two, and indeed many of the movie’s most powerful moments are in its silence.

The back half of Land worked a bit better for me than the first, as it starts to become too disheartening watching Edee make so many decisions against her own self-interest.  I suppose I prove her point that people just want her to “be better” in the end, but Wright does enough character work to have you root for Edee to succeed against what become insurmountable odds. Land shows the contrasting beauty and harshness of nature.  It gives or it takes. But going on this journey with Edee to see her finally master her new life and find the healing power of her surroundings rewards you with a touching and moving finale.

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