In the spring of 2020 cinemas nationwide were shuttered as the UK grappled with the first wave of Covid.
Bar a few false starts (Tenet twice in the summer of 2020) I largely re-calibrated my ‘movie-going’ experience.
Money saved during lockdown was splashed out on physical media; my collection of boutique blu-rays blossoming to its current level of about 350.
But for 18 months the films were almost all consumed from the foot of my bed be they new or old.
However, since autumn last year, I have thrown myself back into cinema, taking almost whatever was put on offer.
But every time. regardless of the film, something felt off. Until Drive My Car.
Supernova at Everyman Newcastle hit a few right notes, No Time to Die at Peckhamplex was overlong but hey, it was James Bond and it was finally out in cinemas.
Dune at Greenwich Picturehouse was perhaps the biggest movie of 2021, whereas The House of Gucci (Peckhamplex) was the campest.
I loved the style of Last Night in Soho (Peckhamplex again) but not the plot.
Annette (at the Barbican Theatre) was probably the oddest film I saw in 2021 and West Side Story (same venue) similarly scratched that musical itch albeit to a more mainstream tempo. But even Spielberg somehow failed to fully rouse me.
The French Dispatch (Greenwich Picturehouse) left me surprisingly cold for a Wes Anderson film and The Matrix Resurrections (Everyman Newcastle) failed to replicate the magic of the original film (or perhaps that was the point…),
The Lost Daughter (Tyneside Cinema) is a searing debut by Maggie Gyllenhaal but I still felt something inside me was missing, a feeling that persisted even after Titane (Catford Mews)— the most extreme film I’ve seen in the cinema since either Enter the Void or Antichrist.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s long-awaited Licorice Pizza is a 70s-era delight that has grown and grown on me in the days since I enjoyed at early screening at Curzon Soho.
Memoria just last week at the Institute for Contemporary Arts moved me, left me wondering, left me pondering but also left me, ever so slightly, unsatisfied.
Despite all these films, these different cinemas, I felt like something was not clicking. I was failing to connect with the screen, my brain apparently too used to a smaller one and too used to home comforts.
But it was the three-hour long Drive My Car, at the East Dulwich Picturehouse, which finally clicked with me.
It had been a very last minute decision, the 7.30pm showing was the only suitable one, I cycled to the cinema, grabbed a sandwich from M&S and was actually late to my seat (apologies to my fellow patrons).
But within minutes Drive My Car, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, had me.
Based on a Haruki Murakami short story, Drive My Car stars Hidetoshi Nishijima as Yūsuke Kafuku: an actor and theatre director whose wife dreams up her short stories while they have sex.
His wife dies and Mr Kafuku takes up a directing role in Hiroshima. However, as part of the gig, he is not allowed behind the wheel of his beloved car and so relies on a young driver.
But if you’re expecting Driving Miss Daisy or Green Book, guess again. Drive My Car instead touches on the very nature of grief, love and loss. Of the power of language and the imbalance of autonomy all set on a backdrop of a modernising, melting-pot Japan that is as obsessed with celebrity culture as the Western world.
Despite these heavy themes Drive My Car feels like a meditative breeze (the credits are some 41 minutes into the movie) and is never preachy or overwrought.
It’s a three-hour dip into the life of Mr Kafuku (he’s in every scene) as he negotiates first a finely-balanced marriage and then a smorgasbord cast for his production of Uncle Vanya (you don’t have to be familiar with the play to enjoy the film).
Ever since the screening, some 6 days ago, I’ve been unable to get Drive My Car out of my head. It was revelatory to me and I can’t quite put my finger on why nor can I enunciate it. And I love that.
And I love cinema.