Ancient Levant comes to modern-day Bow in the form of Maeve Brennan’s exhibition at the Chisenhale. Her film, ‘The Drift’, was shot in Lebanon (her adopted home) and follows three individuals. The first is the gatekeeper of a Roman temple site who protects it from looters and vandals. The second is a mechanic who makes a living stripping down and refurbishing old cars. The third is a conservationist who pieces together the broken artefacts unearthed from archaeological digs.
The film is very easy on the eye: sumptuously shot, artfully staged and concerto-like in its editing. Long takes of the cypress-dotted landscape intercut with close-ups of fractured earthenware and mangled dashboards make Brennan’s point pretty obvious: all this remaking and rebuilding is basically one and the same. Order from entropy; growth from ruination.
Which, as a conceit, is totally fine. But the political backdrop to her story goes largely unspoken, and it becomes clear that the film’s ponderous, Tarkovsky-in-the-Middle-East aesthetic is meant to be doing all the hard work here. That’s a lot to ask over the course of a 51-minute feature. A few haunting moments – like when the mechanic laments the the assassination of a Hezbollah leader, before going on to praise the rims of his burnt-out BMW – keep this from flatlining. But with future projects, Brennan needs to make a clearer choice between politics and poetry, because at the moment, she’s a little guilty of, well, drifting.