Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for Magic, Realism: The Films of Sara Driver. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Sara Driver is the crucial, and practically unique, link between the gritty No Wave aesthetic of the 1980s New York underground art scene and the grounded surrealism of Luis Buñuel and David Lynch. Unlike those more masculine cinematic surrealists, who indulge in Freudian impulses and sexual drives to subvert such established hierarchies as Hollywood, the church, and wholesome Americana, Driver caters in the irrational seemingly for the fun of it; the sheer exuberance and freedom of flouting narrative and genre codes are their own rewards. Her films, the less-than-an-hour-long You Are Not I and the features Sleepwalk and When Pigs Fly, could be marketed as ghost stories, horror flicks, or art films, but none of those labels do them justice.
Driver is personally and professionally allied with the similarly maverick Jim Jarmusch, who has taken on such roles as co-writer and camera operator on her unclassifiable marvels. With him she shares a streak of comic absurdity and a penchant for capturing deadpan, understated acting despite whatever fantastical goings-on may be at play. Like the restless, indelible characters of Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, and Mystery Train, the people of Driver’s films explode stereotypes and story arcs. In contrast to him, she excels at depicting nontraditional female subjectivity, ignoring trite notions of the feminine in favor of an unbridled imaginative force.
Save a short visual travelogue of the Bowery neighborhood filmed for French television in 1994, Driver hasn’t returned to a place behind the camera since 1993’s When Pigs Fly. The more’s the pity for American independent cinema, as her mélanges of portent and humor have been sorely missed in the interval.