Here is a French New Wave pastiche that, like many others, emulates the style but retains none of the charm. The Drifters tries hard to blend the aesthetics of those 1960s classics with pressing issues of migration and racism. Alas, the poorly sketched characters render the film’s social concerns superficial at best and tone-deaf at worst.
The Drifters follows a whirlwind romance between Fanny (Lucie Bourdeu), a French waitress, and Kofi (Jonathan Ajayi), an undocumented Senegalese migrant. After a meet-cute in an English class in London, Kofi sweeps Fanny away on a half romantic, half literal getaway trip to the seaside. Kofi has committed a robbery in exchange for an Irish passport – a better option than a British one in a post-Brexit world – and he is now on the run from both his boss Doog (Joey Akubeze) and the police.
Like many Nouvelle Vague heroines, Fanny loves addressing the camera and breaking into dance. Unfortunately, such behavioural quirks swiftly become insufferable: she turns to the audience to muse on how she eats a lot but stays thin, and how commercials used to be so much better because of all the sex and violence. The Drifters is clearly clueless about the delicate dynamics of interracial romance: Fanny’s “cute” jokes with Kofi, which include asking if he has explosives in his bag and a “black people don’t swim” tease are downright mind-boggling. Even worse, the film has included a reprehensible trope in which Kofi befriends and redeems a white man (played by Jonjo O’Neill) who hurls racist abuse at him.
In the end, Ajayi is The Drifters’ only saving grace; his heartfelt, sincere performance is the single beacon of substance in a stylish but hollow work.