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Sundance Review: “Land,” Despite Occasional Missteps, Offers Profound Healing

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 11th, 2021

Film poster: “Land”

Land (Robin Wright, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.

An alternately melancholy and vibrant exploration of grief and its gradual transformation into something else, actress Robin Wright’s directorial debut, Land, delivers a moving, if maudlin, tale with a powerful life-affirming lesson at its center. Starring Wright (House of Cards), herself, in the lead role of Edee, a woman who has just lost her husband and child, the movie brings us on a voyage of recovery that can often be difficult to watch, at least initially, yet slowly becomes less painful as time goes on, both for her and the viewer. Until the gut-wrenching ending, that is, though by then we have learned strength and resilience, just as Edee has, and so can look tragedy in the face and move on, saddened but not destroyed.

When first we meet Edee, she is bereft, barely registering any emotion at all, whether in therapy or with her sister; the reasons are as yet unclear, though they will take some kind of shape over time. Soon, she packs up her belongings and heads out, leaving her home in Chicago for parts unknowns. We watch as the scenery changes from urban to rural to wild and mountainous (license plates and signage indicating Wyoming). Stocking up on supplies, she then moves further away from civilization to a long-unused cabin, arranging for her own vehicle to be driven away, much to the surprise and concern of the local who has guided her there. Finally, she is alone, as she wishes to be, apart from the land (and its flora and fauna) that surround her.

And alone she remains, with little prior outdoor experience, even as the weather turns cold and the snow falls. Wolves and a very hungry bear come and go, and though she survives, her clear desire to die looks to become a reality as food grows scarce. Elliptical visions and flashbacks reveal parts of her backstory, but we don’t need hard details to grasp the depths of her misery. Shot with an eye to celebrate the austere majesty of the setting without romanticizing it, Land makes clear both that what Edee decides is her own business and that life will go on, regardless.

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.

But then the narrative switches gears when a solitary backwoodsman, Miguel (Demián Bichir, Lowriders), happens upon the cabin at a particularly opportune moment (of unfortunate screenwriterly coincidence). From there, Land begins Edee’s process of healing, the friendship between the two giving her a different perspective on the world (Miguel has his own sorrow, which he shares). It’s particularly nice that the movie avoids any kind of romance or associated inclination, allowing the two characters room to behave and be, without distractions. This is where the story is at its most reserved, and therefore at its strongest. There’s even a beautiful dog to go along with it, which always helps.

By the conclusion, despite its occasional script missteps and flirtation with grief porn, Land proves effectively poignant in its bittersweet final moments. What tears may flow come with an understanding that this is not the end, but the start of something new. In our own fraught era, perhaps we can all accept this profound wisdom.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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