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‘Learning to Drive’ – Review – Letting go and discovering…

‘Learning to Drive’ – Review – Letting go and discovering…

June 10 2016

Film seemingly about learning to drive is about a lot more…

THIS is about an unconventional ‘romance’ and is the sort of story that will have many who don’t fit into particular groove nodding very appreciatively.

It’s about two people probably in the autumn of their lives, but still wanting the most from it – and why the heck not?

That one of the leads (Sir Ben Kingsley) plays Darwan, a Sikh taxi driver/driving instructor, is commendable in itself (when we don’t see enough of these characters centre stage, as it were) and the culture and faith are nicely handled – though some might squirm a tad at Darwan’s backstory of torture in Punjab.

Patricia Clarkson plays Wendy, a book critic, who has lived much of her life in her head, and as her marriage breaks up she finds solace with Kingsley, who has eccentricities and is quite diffident, more so around women you suspect.

This is not a romcom in the conventional sense though, and there’s no predictable story arc…

In fact, one of its undoubted strengths is its authenticity and its delicate pacing. At around 90 minutes, it’s succinct and deftly executed.

It’s also based on a true story – it might be very New York, but it does show that we can sometimes connect with people – whom on paper we actually have very little in common with and whom we wouldn’t really imagine any sort of relationship, suddenly emerging into a new light.

Kingsley and Clarkson are good together – Darwan Singh Tur is well-drawn, he has foibles and there is one small inconsistency which we can probably overlook.

Upright, earnest, and sincere, he lives with a group of Punjabi men who are, as the parlance goes, ‘undocumented’. It seems strange that he should put himself at risk like this, but perhaps his loyalty to his brethren is very strong (and very Punjabi).

Kingsley’s accent is a little odd at times, but he carries off the character really well: he does embody a certain nobility and sacrifice, and it’s very compelling – and when around Clarkson, quite charming and subtly seductive.

You want this rather tortured, exiled, emotionally damaged Sikh driving instructor to melt Clarkson’s icey, seemingly intellectual heart but life is never that simple, is it?

Gentle, wise, and funny, you can see why it’s done well on the festival circuit and had a good run in North America and has now come here.

Spanish-born US-based director Isabel Coixet is something of a rising name too; having directed Kingsley and Clarkson before in “Elegy” (2008) – she keeps things for the most part light and airy here, but opens enough for those who want a deeper analysis to go there.

There’s a lot to like here – and it’s the sort of film intelligent and maybe mature (in terms of disposition, not years) folks should be championing.
ACV rating: ***¾ (out of five)
(Sailesh Ram)

‘Learning to Drive’ is on release in the UK from today (June 10)
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Written by Asian Culture Vulture