‘Alone’ (‘Solos’): Rotterdam Review

Courtesy of Tondero Producciones
Its compelling central idea just about maintains interest in a project that frustratingly lacks focus

Peruvian Joanna Lombardi’s second feature is a road movie about movies

Towards the end of Alone, its four 30-something protags sit in silence, hung over with pisco, as though they’ve run out of things to say: and by the end, this thought-provoking but unfocused film seems to have done the same. This sometimes wobbly tightrope walk between feature and documentary about four friends who head into the jungle to screen a movie to the locals highlights the strengths and dangers of acting improv, with moments of arresting immediacy sitting alongside scenes of outright conversational tedium.

But with Peruvian cinema increasingly a force to be reckoned with on the festival circuit, Alone’s intelligent if scattered debate about the movies’ place in the culture could mean that other highbrow fests could take an interest in Joanna Lombardi's second feature, following its Rotterdam premiere.

The concept is intriguing, heavy with a potential which it only occasionally fulfills. The quartet of (apparently) wannabe filmmakers, Wendy (Wendy Vasquez), Rodrigo (Rodrigo Palacios), Diego (Diego Lombardi), and Alberto (Argentinian Alberto Rojas) have set off into the Peruvian jungle with a battered truck and an inflatable screen in order not to make a film, but to screen one -- presumably one they’ve made -- at the various towns they drive into. On arriving at a mountain village, they use a megaphone to invite the locals to a screening of a film which few or no people ever attend, but their optimism is boundless, and on they go to the next failure, in the absurdist spirit of an Andean update of Waiting for Godot.

A couple of times, Alberto chats with locals about their experience of watching movies: one of them featured in Armando Robles Godoy’s 1969 The Green Wall, a reference point in Peruvian cinema which he hasn’t actually seen, while another is a Jackie Chan fan. These brief moments of authentic interaction feel more true than all the gang’s improvised conversations. Because when they aren’t setting up their screen, or interacting with the locals, they’re indulging in meandering, under-edited chit-chat which, while pointing up their isolation from one another, and especially of Wendy from the boys -- hence the title -- they’re dramatically going nowhere. It’s all very different from the highly-scripted compactness of Lombardi’s debut, Casadentro.

Screening a movie that took years to make in the jungle to an indifferent, uncaring non-public in the jungle: there are lots of movie makers out there who can identify with that. It feels like a neatly-wrought metaphor, though quite what for isn’t clear. Is the film critiquing the ways in which culture fails to reach those who most need it? Or the cultural snobbery of those who believe they might need it at all, or of the way that screens are breaking down interpersonal communications? Or is it about a generation full of energy and good ideas, being ignored? Probably all of these -- but frustratingly, the script isn’t telling, and neither are the characters, who remain fuzzily abstract and just out of reach, with no backstories or interesting idiosyncrasies to help us get a purchase on them. They feel as alienated from the viewer as they do from each other.

Visually, Alone is a treat, with D.p. Inti Briones, a guarantee of visual quality, taking full advantage of the central Peruvian jungle setting through richly-detailed, crisp static takes, and saving the best until the haunting penultimate shot. For the record, director Lombardi is the daughter of one of Peru’s best-known directors, Francisco J. Lombardi.

Production company: El arbol azul, Tondero Films
Cast: Wendy Vasquez, Rodrigo Palacios, Diego Lombardi, Alberto Rojas
Director, screenwriter: Joanna Lombardi
Producer: Miguel Valladares
Executive producer: Jorge Constantino
Director of photography: Inti Briones
Production designer: Daniela Talavera
Editor: Eric Williams
Composer: Dengue Dengue Dengue
Sales: Tondero Films
No rating
92 minutes