Broken Line North

By Sunday Emerson Gullifer | Drama
A woman picks up a hitchhiker on her way to a funeral. They make a connection.

Lia is a Lao-Australian woman on a road trip on her way to a funeral, navigating a personal crisis as she makes her way across the landscape. Caught up in her own emotions, she nevertheless encounters a teenage hitchhiker, who asks her for a lift. She's reluctant at first but then agrees.

The pair don't chat much, but when they stop for the night on the long trip, Lia feels compelled to let him stay in her motel room. Over the course of the night, they discover a connection through their own brokenness and grief, and in their own way, help one another bear it.

Written and directed by Sunday Emerson Gullifer, this spare, evocative drama captures both the raw grief and quiet desperation of the lonely and bereft, as two people who seemingly have little in common come together for a brief interlude in their lives. We don't know much about either character at first. The writing is spare, allowing its characters to exist firmly in the present tense.

In a way, we see how Lia and the hitchhiker must appear to each other: as presences drifting through each other's empty lives. They're often shot in shadows and as silhouettes, making them mysterious and opaque. This desolation is captured beautifully in the moody cinematography, unhurried pacing and subtle electronic tones of the plaintive musical score. All of these come together to create a sense of transience.

But when the action shifts to the claustrophobic, anonymous hotel room, the film acquires an intimacy that's both intriguing and uncomfortable. Actors Alice Keohavang and Kai Lewins balance both the awkwardness of strangers in close quarters and their own vulnerabilities. That vulnerability and intimacy -- especially at a point of crisis for both characters -- lead to a misunderstanding. But it's one that breaks both characters open, allowing them a fragile but deep connection that helps both move forward.

With its undertow of melancholy and its understated beauty, "Broken Line North" is an elegantly crafted, beautifully subtle meditation on grief, loss and connection, with an intuitive understanding of how crisis can break us open. That crack is painful, but it also allows us to let others in, often in a tremulously authentic way. In doing so, we feel less alone and can move forward in the ways we need to carry our pain lighter.

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