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SOFIA 2023

Review: Roving Woman


- Michał Chmielewski’s debut feature is a strong calling card about love, and shared loneliness in the California desert, executive-produced by Wim Wenders

Review: Roving Woman
Lena Góra in Roving Woman

Often, everything begins with an ending. In the opening scene of Roving Woman [+see also:
film profile
, a young woman is locked out of what we presume is the home she shares with her partner. But no matter how hard she bangs on the door, it still remains shut. With such a literal metaphor – a closed door – for an opening gambit and without any further explanations, director Michał Chmielewski invites the viewer on a journey. What seems like an aimless amble at first is soon transformed into a roadmap of inspirations, as our enigmatic protagonist, Sara (Lena Góra), explores the roads of California, its deserts and their people. With its impressive take on shared loneliness, the film is perhaps the brightest of the 12 entries in the Sofia International Film Festival’s International Competition.

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For his feature debut, the Polish filmmaker collaborated with Góra from the very beginning to mould a story about restless searching into a cinematic sanctum, of sorts: 95 drifting minutes that feel like home. Together, the director and actress wrote the script as a road movie that would have Los Angeles as its starting point, and even if Paris, Texas was not a particularly sought-out reference, they also got the support of Wim Wenders in the role of executive producer. The dubious potential of starry LA already draws a parallel between her inner struggles and the outside world, but in the wake of her inexplicable break-up, Sara is anything but discouraged. After crashing on a couch left on the street, she steals a car in a single, wide-shot, long take, nonchalantly and somewhat casually. Roving Woman deals with practicalities like these in such a refined, inviting manner, demonstrating both curiosity and affection for an old mixtape and people’s personal stories alike.

On the road, Sara meets folk who regale her with tales in medias res, readily, as if catching up with an old friend. Chmielewski and his crew found many of these loners on the spot. Some, like Brian McGuire and Oscar nominee John Hawkes, are professional actors, while others, like US producer Chris Hanley, present a version of themselves that is responsive and fluid in relation to the shooting process. The shoot itself was loose enough, and included improvisation and some hidden cameras in the car to capture the authentic reactions of some passers-by, faced with this lonely woman and her need for petrol, change or a phone call.

Cinematographer Łukasz Dziedzic prefers static, long takes capturing the rhythm of life unfolding, internally and externally. Portrayed from a distance and sometimes even kept off screen, these interactions carry a whiff of documentarian wonder about them without ever seeming exploitative. Editor Przemysław Chruscielewski works economically, getting to the core of the film’s non-verbal truth. In a signature move, he hints at the intricate relationship between feelings and images with a single, hard cut: one minute, Sara is basking in the lovey-dovey presence of a couple living in an RV, and the next, she’s driving away with tears glistening on her cheeks. In all this, Góra is resplendent as a woman forced to confront her own loneliness; even more than this, she radiates a warmth that promises it’ll all be okay. Both the character and the film’s title are inspired by the figure of Connie Converse, a musician who disappeared without a trace back in 1974, but Roving Woman cannot be confined to any single referential frame: it is a promising debut film of both modest formal means and seismic power, where endings bring people together, even in their solitude.

Roving Woman is a Friends With Benefits Studio (Poland) and Amor Vacui Films production (USA/Poland), with the latter company also handling the international sales.

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