Hélène Joy in Woman In Car (2021)
Anne leads a life of sophistication. She lives in a beautiful scenic house on the hill surrounded by serenity, but something is bubbling underneath the surface. Nearby is a bow and arrow, ready for her to take aim. Anne (Hélène Joy), the protagonist of Vanya Rose’s first feature film Woman In Car, is an incredibly observational character. She is full of intensity and in perpetual hesitation, always on the verge of unraveling. She is overcome with something, and Hélène Joy’s performance is a masterclass of withholding as much as possible until secrets come to light. The film plays on vagueness and sits with its characters, in moments of rest and silence, as though waiting to see what they choose to reveal. Woman In Car is a hypnotic journey of family secrets and class, led by Hélène Joy’s fantastic performance as a woman haunted by the skeletons rattling in her closet.
The story unravels around Anne, who appears composed on the surface. The countdown to her wedding day winds down. Following her previous marriage, which ended under mysterious circumstances, she is on the verge of a fresh start in life. But in watching Joy’s detailed and layered performance, there is an immediate sense that something is not right. The gears in her mind are turning. What is she thinking about? Writer-director Vanya Rose makes the brilliant decision to tell this story as though puzzle pieces are slowly coming together. The film begins in the midst of Anne’s idyllic livelihood, which begins to crumble when her stepson Owen (Aidan Ritchie) returns home with his girlfriend Safiye (Liane Balaban) and triggers secrets from the past. Anne develops an obsession with Safiye, an “outsider” whom she fears could destroy her privileged protective bubble. The possibility of Anne’s life being ruined looms over her, and she struggles to keep her secrets hidden. The performers, especially Hélène Joy in the lead role, bring this journey to life with plenty of lived-in details.
Hélène Joy carries this film with her remarkable screen presence, felt deeply from the first frame. She conveys the paranoia of Anne’s world slowly closing in on her, and the steadfast resistance from being caught in a web of secrets. Through her performance, she evokes that there is more to Anne than meets the eye. Some of the most interesting revelations happen in moments of complete silence, when the camera simply focuses on her observations and facial expressions. The direction and writing compliment her strengths as an actor incredibly well.
Vanya Rose has an intriguing vision and a strong emotional investment in showing, rather than telling. What makes Woman In Car so special is a thoughtful, layered character study at the center. Rather than reveal Anne’s past front the get-go and spend the rest of the film teasing whether she’ll be found out, the film opts for a far more interesting build-up. Vanya Rose slowly chips away at the polished, wealthy facade Anne masks herself with. It is through this approach that Rose explores upper class privilege and the power characters of that world wield around like threats. This is certainly a film that benefits greatly from not knowing too much about plot points beforehand. Woman In Car is a consistently engaging and mysterious experience with an accomplished lead performance at its core.
The 2021 Canadian Film Fest runs from April 1st to April 17th. 🇨🇦