Roving Woman – Raindance Film Festival 2022 – Film Review

To be rejected suddenly and physically from a long-term relationship, with just the evening dress on your back as your only possession, may be considered to be a fate worse than death for many. For Sara (Lena Góra), it is a character forming moment in Michał Chmielewski’s feature debut Roving Woman. Chmielewski instantly immerses the viewer in Sara’s world as we witness her humiliation during a callous breakup, and imagine our own reaction in such painful circumstances, which initially evokes sympathy for Sara swiftly followed by pity. Roving Woman is that thoughtful, poetic tale of Sara’s catharsis as she embarks on a road trip to re-build her sense of purpose and identity but instead meets oddball characters along the route. Chmielewski works well with the director of photography to produce magnetic scenes of captivating desert along Sara’s journey depicting an exhilarating, enviable sense of freedom.

Sara had barely managed to cling on to a degree of self-respect after cajoling, begging and pleading for answers, from her fiancé, in an effort to receive that closure. It is acutely on the nose as that insightful observation of the pain of heartbreak. Breakups are never easy to navigate but Chmielewski takes us on that cross America odyssey to watch Sara learn to be independent, appreciate nature and discover new people along the way.

Lena Góra as Sara in Roving Woman
Lena Góra as Sara in Roving Woman

Roving Woman has a familiar sounding premise, already seen in films such as Eat, Pray, Love, where travel provides that route to healing. It will therefore be a road trip that many can relate to after being in a co-dependent relationship. Actress-writer Góra provides a haunting portrayal of Sara who displays an innocence and cunning in equal measure and thus remains ambiguous. The car in which she travels across town is not even her own but it becomes one of the few items that she possesses, which also illustrates some problematic aspects for a woman solo travelling such as running out of petrol when she has limited means.

Chmielewski ’s direction embraces that isolation surrounding Sara and the film highlights perilous conditions for women who may suddenly disappear from society, consciously or not, to eschew societal pressures and live off the grid or embrace a nomadic lifestyle. Films such as Wild (2014) and Land (2021) have previously explored this world of women choosing to live off the grid following a break up or previous trauma and both compellingly highlight the pitfalls that may be encountered. Roving Woman however, does not commit to a direction for Sara’s arc as more emphasis is placed on the slapstick, comedic elements of chance encounters as opposed to fleshing out any momentous change which leaves an unsatisfactory one-dimensional pathway.

Lena Góra as Sara in the desert in Roving Woman
Lena Góra as Sara in the desert in Roving Woman

Roving Woman is loosely inspired by the unsolved disappearance of singer Connie Converse and that notion of being a woman alone, which ought to have created complex layers for the film, however these aspects appear confused. The film’s title is the only direct reference to Connie Converse as the name of one of her songs but it is unfortunate that this is glossed over. Roving Woman essentially operates as a series of disparate vignettes which may be pretty to look at, but cannot offer any further depth.

Roving Woman showcases the beauty and tranquility of the desert and that opportunity to lose oneself in its hypnotic presence and drive aimlessly. The difficulty is that the film cannot offer any more substance and therefore struggles to find an adequate conclusion for Sara’s journey. Roving Woman unfortunately tapers off after a promising start leaving questions surrounding its lack of direction and the dilution of its feminist spirit when more characters are introduced. Chmielewski clearly has an eye for the visuals but perhaps needs greater confidence to develop his characters further and to build a convincing central storyline to keep audiences invested.

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