With Nomadland having just earned Academy Award accolades as the Best Picture of 2020, a film like Land being released is curious timing. It’ll inevitably be compared to Chloe Zhao’s inward masterpiece and, in its own way, it’s something of a more digestible, audience friendly take on the narrative of finding yourself in the wilderness.
The wilderness here is the Rocky Mountains – Bobby Bukowski captures the landscape with a lush eye – and it soon becomes a place of escape for Edee (Robin Wright, also helming the film as its director) as she navigates herself away from the numbness that is currently consuming her person. Through subtle, quiet sequences involving her therapist and her sister (Kim Dickens), we learn that something tragic has befallen her, but just what it is isn’t revealed until later in one of the film’s most affecting sequences.
Needing to be away from people, Edee’s trip to the Wyoming mountains presents itself as a spiritual retreat, but the sadness so evident behind her eyes – Wright is the type of actress who conveys so much without uttering much dialogue – suggests that this could be some sort of way to say goodbye. Nothing is ever explicitly clear during Land‘s opening moments, and Edee’s presumed naivety in just how well she can survive in such a secluded dwelling only leans further into the temperament that perhaps she’s letting nature choose her fate.
Initially there’s a type of fantasy elements washed over Land‘s narrative. Edee sees visions of who we presume are the husband and son she’s lost, and the type of fumbling about she expresses in these new surroundings tease a saccharine Eat Pray Love-type experience that, thankfully, Wright and screenwriters Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam – the former making is writing debut, the latter a frequent collaborator of Wright’s, having penned early works such as Denial and Loved – are smart enough to avoid.
The introduction of Miguel (Demian Bichir), a local hunter, brings about a more secure footing for both the film and for Edee as a character. She tries to be stern in her assurance that she won’t need his help, but his persistence and kindly nature counsels otherwise, and the two uncover a kindredness within each other pertaining to the wounds they carry from devastations they hold so close to their chest.
Land‘s primary objective appears to be to stir emotion, and the film succeeds for the most part, wisely avoiding anything overtly manipulative and foregoing the usual trope of exposition-heavy voiceovers and overwrought flashbacks. Wright has ultimately crafted a romantic film, one that speaks to the love of the land and one’s self. Being more of a shiny tale in comparison to the fact-driven Nomadland, Land may not stir emotions as intensely, but it’s handsomely tailored and suitably hopeful all the same.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Land is screening in Australian theatres from April 29th, 2021
Land was originally reviewed as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which ran virtually between January 28th and February 3rd, 2021.