SIFF 2022 Review: “Are We Lost” Finds Quiet Moments of Connection in a Family Unmoored By Tragedy

“I thought you liked being your own boss,” Luna (Freya Rainsford) says to her mother Reine (Jane Wall) in “Are We Lost,” an idea that’s stomped out nearly as quickly as it escapes the kid’s lips as Reine assures her “I’m not really my own boss.” You can see where Luna would get the idea from when Reine leads an unconventional schedule, taking odd jobs from TaskRabbit while her daughter and slightly older son Oscar (Oscar Ellsworth) are left to their own devices as latchkey kids, idling away time off school by skating, in Oscar’s case, or making friends with the neighbors, but like many things in Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton’s wily drama, having control over anything in life is a bit of an illusion and Reine certainly hasn’t been afforded much over hers in spite of how hard she works.

Reine actually doesn’t need to say this for the benefit of any audience but her young daughter by the time she does, due to the time-shifting narrative that reveals as soon as the film starts that Luna has already passed away, but their relationship is still very much alive in her mind, to the detriment of her connection to Oscar, who moved in with his father (Theo Marshall) after Luna’s untimely death. For the longest time, Reine actually doesn’t say anything at all as “Are We Lost” opens, driving aimlessly as an Uber driver who has as much interest in talking to her passengers as they appear to have, and while her grief is all-consuming, it arrives with an added sense of mystery when she can’t articulate to anyone what she’s feeling and Gage and Betterton are slow and savvy to draw out the connections between her and the family she’s pushed away in Luna’s wake.

Although Gage took a detour into the swoony romance of the franchise-starting “After” for her narrative debut, “Are We Lost” is an exciting return to territory that the photographers-turned-filmmakers mined for their first nonfiction feature “All This Panic” in which the inner lives of those in front of the camera vividly leapt off the screen, a particular revelation when their subjects in that case were teenage girls who normally aren’t seen in such a light. Reine, a working mother, is also a type not typically given center stage, having been able to conceal her abandoned ambitions to be a lawyer and other sacrifices she continues to make for the sake of her kids with her competence and composure, but is left completely exposed once Luna dies and Gage and Betterton, who are able to find casual beauty with an impressionistic shooting style that would seem to rely on piecing together raw material they collect with the actors more than most dramas, often locate big emotional moments in subtle gestures that speak the world when words fail the characters.

The directing duo know when to deploy a cinematic flourish without breaking the naturalism they’ve carefully constructed – besides the chronological manipulation that underlines the fissures that ultimately lead to untenable cracks in Oscar and Reine’s relationship, other cinematic flourishes such as ending an idyllic day at the beach with an iris fade out and drifting in and out of focus feel emotionally authentic and a slim running time of 71 minutes affirms the sense you’re slipping in and out of someone else’s life. Perhaps it may not appear to be the finest hour for Reine and her family at first, to see the strength it takes to endure tragedy and readjust to a new normal in all its small, unspoken ways is time well spent.

“Are We Lost” will screen at the Seattle Film Festival at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on April 21st at 5:30 pm and April 22nd at 4 pm. It is also now available to stream through the duration of the festival, ending April 24th.