The Longest Distance (La Distancia Mas Larga): Huelva Review
Venezuelan Claudia Pinto Emperador’s exploration of the twin landscapes of Latin America and of the heart takes the public award at Huelva.
An intimate family drama that plays out against the vast, stunning backdrops of south-eastern Venezuela, The Longest Distance seems to be as interested in its setting as it is in its people, and it’s the people who come off worst. This potentially emotionally rich and complex tale of a guilt-ridden woman who return to a special place to die successfully sidesteps sentimentality, but only occasionally achieves the intensity which would suit its big themes -- family bonds, guilt, and the influence of past over present, amongst others – so that for long stretches, it feels like passionless melodrama.
Distance nonetheless has charms which should help it on its way to further festivals, and Latin American business is also likely for a project that promises more from its directorial first-timer Claudia Pinto Emperador.
Following the senseless shooting of Sara (Beatriz Vasquez) in Caracas, her young son Lucas (Omar Moya) and husband Julio (Ivan Tamayo) are left in an uneasy relationship which is not improved by the news that Lucas’ Spanish grandmother Martina (Spaniard Carme Elias) is coming to Venezuela. From old photos of his mother’s, Lucas figures out that Martina head for The Great Savanna, in the southeast of the country, and runs away from home to meet her there.
En route he encounters Kayemo (Alec Whaite), a penniless ne’er do well with a heart of gold, carrying baggage of his own, who become his temporary big brother as they travel together. But the main focus, following her arrival in Venezuela, is on Martina. Suffering from cancer, after thirteen years she has returned to the region where she spent happy times with her husband, in order to die, thus creating all sorts of moral issues for her old friend, nurse Lola ( Isabel Rocatti), and a couple of credibility issues too.
The film seems to have been devised from the outside in, starting with the absolutely stunning landscapes of the Great Savanna (this is the first feature to have been shot in the region) and working back from there into the characters. A film about feelings, Distance needs its characters to connect with audiences on the emotional level: so it’s surprising that none of them do, the bubbly Lucas apart. This is less important in the case of Julio, the kind of father who’s happy to use the car in which his wife died (bullet hole in window and all) to drive his son around in. Presumably intended to come over as emotionally awkward, this makes Julio appear actively cruel.
But such misjudgment is even more troubling in the case of Martina, the film’s main character, who comes over as self-regarding and detached from the sufferings of those around her. This is understandable given that she’s dying: but even dying people can be likeable, and the ill-formed Martina just isn’t. Her blandness spreads out into the film as a whole and isn’t helped by dialogue that sounds carved rather than written -- “We thought we’d conquer the world – but the world conquered us”. Elias’s self-consciously careful, theatrical delivery disengages Martina still further, while the issues of a whole other (and poorer) family, Kayemo’s, are dealt with perfunctorily by comparison.
At close to two hours long, Distance feels overstretched. Shuttling back and forth between Roraima, the mountain in whose shadow Martina’s old cabin stands, and Caracas, the film subscribes to the easy, romantic view that bad things happen to families in nasty urban areas and good things in the fresh air of the countryside, where the long distances between people will magically become shorter. That said, city and country both are beautifully rendered in widescreen by director of photography Gabriel Guerra, who could hardly go wrong with the cloud-covered, table-topped Roraima or the forests and waterfalls that populate its lower slopes: the final credits sequence is worthy of National Geographic.
Production: Sin Rodeos Films, Castro P.C.
Cast: Carme Elias, Isabel Rocatti, Alec Whaite, Ivan Tamayo, Omar Moya, Malena Gonzalez, Marco Moreno, Beatriz Vasquez
Director, screenwriter: Claudia Pinto Emperador
Producers: Claudia Pinto, Sagrario Santorum
Executive producers: Antonio Llerandi , Claudia Lepage, Jose Masegosa
Director of photography: Gabriel Guerra
Music: Vincent Barriere
Production designer: Matías Tikas
Editor: Elena Ruiz
Sound: Fabiola Ordoyo, Mario Nozoa, Marisol Nievas
Wardrobe: Patricia Busquets
No rating, 113 minutes