Cynthia Erivo and Alia Shawkat shine in the emotionally stirring new work from Anthony Chen (Wet Season, MIFF 2020; Ilo Ilo, MIFF 2013), which explores how friendship and connection can salve the traumas of the past.
On a picturesque Greek beach, Jacqueline cuts a striking figure among the vacationing Europeans, but she spends her days trying to disappear from their sight – all the better with which to steal leftover food from restaurants and cafes. When approached or questioned, she shies away or claims to be a tourist, a story lent weight by her crisp British accent. But when she meets effervescent American tour guide Callie, Jacqueline’s walls start to come down, and in each other these two scarred women find a restorative solace.
Making his English-language debut, Chen (whose film The Breaking Ice also screens at MIFF 2023) delivers a remarkable and unconventional refugee story. Working from a script by Susanne Farrell and Alexander Maksik that adapts Maksik’s 2013 novel, the award-winning director slowly unravels Jacqueline’s past as he steers this elliptical and luminous film towards a cathartic conclusion. Erivo (Harriet; Bad Times at the El Royale) and Shawkat (Search Party; Blaze, MIFF 2018) – two actors at the top of their game – give extraordinary performances whose authenticity is underscored by detailed research into the refugee experience from producers Emilie Georges and Peter Spears (Call Me by Your Name, MIFF 2017).
Erivo’s full-bodied commitment … results in a performance so powerful that it’s occasionally too difficult to watch. And yet, Chen’s deft eye for the ebb and flow of recognizable human drama prevents you from ever looking away.
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