“My life is a matter of life and death. Yours is a matter of pleasure and pain.” The line comes roughly halfway through Benjamin Bond’s directorial debut, The Drifters, yet it encapsulates the film and its two lovers in less than 20 words. For this is a story which appears light and frothy on the surface, but hides something deeper and more thought-provoking underneath.
Koffee (Jonathan Ajayi) and Fanny (Lucie Bourdeu) meet at an English class – he’s African, she’s French. They seem like an odd couple: while she’s an assertive free spirit, he’s more laid back, quiet and a touch shy. But there’s a spark, they’re comfortable with each other and when he needs to get out of London, she goes with him simply for the fun of it. The sunny beaches of south Devon seem like the perfect refuge, one where they can forget their respective histories and simply enjoy life, but the past is on their tail and closer than they think ….
Billed as a post-Brexit love story, The Drifters has less to do specifically with that divisive political decision and with identity, a search for belonging and attitudes towards life in general. Originally from the African continent, Koffee hides his physical scars under his shirt so the outside world has no idea of his past life: he’s not necessarily come to terms with what happened to him, but he’s found a way of coping that serves him well. So the opportunity to have some fun, to simply live, without any pressures or burdens, is too good to resist. Fanny, on the other hand, has gone out of her way to avoid anything approaching responsibility, determined to live life on her own terms and simply pursue her dreams, however unrealistic they may appear.
Her character also gives the film a distinctly Gallic attitude and style, one which has encouraged comparisons with the French New Wave. And, while the nods are there, especially in the use of bold, blocked colours and gorgeous sunlight, this is still very much a British film, with the Devon fishing town and its traditions forming a backdrop with a charming local flavour. Despite the darker side to the story, which bookends the film, it’s infused with a fizzing energy and a warmth that comes from the couple at the centre rather than the idyllic summer sun. Both actors respond well to being almost constantly in the limelight throughout. Jonathan Ajayi was still in drama school while working on the project and gives a mature, thoughtful performance in what is also his first feature film, while Bourdeu hits just the right note as his gamine girlfriend who, ultimately, has to face the possibility of becoming more of an adult that she’d like.
In turns introspective and perky, reflecting the couple at its heart, The Drifters has confidence to spare in the way it regularly breaks the fourth wall and challenges our pre-conceived notions of people. It’s a joyous celebration of freedom, of living life to the full but still has its feet sufficiently on the ground to know that such idylls very rarely last for long.
Drama, Comedy | Cert: 15 | Digital | | 2 April 2021 | Dir. Benjamin Bond | Jonathan Ajayi, Lucie Bourdeu, Jonjo O’Neill.