‘The Long Way Home’ (‘El cami mes llarg per tornar a casa’): Film Review
Sergi Perez’s strictly art house debut has been one of the Spanish year’s critical hits.
A bleak but rewarding study of one man’s post-separation trauma, Sergi Perez’s Catalan-language feature debut, The Long Way Home, immediately elevates the director to Spain’s ever-lengthening list of edgy directorial talent alongside art fest faves such as Alberto Morais, Manuel Martin Cuenca and Gabriel Velazquez. Slow but never dull, and featuring a central performance by Borja Espinosa of a sometimes toe-curling intensity, Home is a too-rare example in a cinematic world full of blank, posing protags of a film that is prepared to plumb the emotional depths.
The experience of watching a man clutching desperately to the end of his tether is inevitably uncomfortable, but the film’s unflinching honesty gives it a purity that the art fest demographic is likely to appreciate. And if you happen to be a divorced guy yourself, then so much the better.
Joel (Espinosa) has been left by his wife. He awakes one morning from lengthy sleep to discover that his wife’s dog, Elvis, is apparently close to death. Joel takes Elvis to the vet and then drives away back home, where he realizes he’s locked himself out of the house.
Not prepared to pay the price a locksmith demands, Joel begins an uncertain pilgrimage around the places and people he knows in search of a spare house key, with the comatose Elvis, who was wearing a location chip, accompanying him in the car. Amongst those he encounters are his brother Pau (Pol Lopez), a visit that reveals the strange non-relationship Joel has with his family, and his friend Marti (Miki Esparbe), who has a record shop, and his neighbor Maria (Maria Ribera). In a bar, he meets, and comes close to raping, a waitress (Silvia Esquivel).
Having met these, Joel always seems in a mad rush to get away from them. He’s afraid to engage with them, since contact with them is painful. But he can’t so easily get rid of the damn dog — which in its turn, of course, is both a reminder of his wife and of his own sorry condition at the end, so to speak, of his tether.
Home is thus one of those absurdist, bleakly comic existential studies of what happens to a man when his links to society have been severed — wife, family, friends and home all gone. It takes a special kind of performance to make such a sorry state of affairs — and indeed an often outright unpleasant central figure — dramatically interesting, but Espinosa, a Catalan actor making his feature debut, is up to the task as the rumpled, bearded, twitchily aggressive Joel, torn between misanthropy and a wavering desire to keep Elvis alive, for reasons he doesn’t himself quite understand. It may be because he knows that at some deep level he is, in fact, the dog.
The script is very much show don’t tell, with the relationship between Jose and Maria in particular left frustratingly foggy and ambiguous: a couple more lines of dialogue would have cleaned up a couple of too-fuzzy plot issues. But neither is this one of those self-consciously experimental affairs in which the director is concerned to slap his stylistic paint over everything: this is Joel’s story, and the downbeat style feels appropriately molded to the character.
Thus the visuals are downbeat, largely recorded from the shoulder by Julian Elizalde and Bet Rourich, and perpetually in motion to suggest the restlessness at work inside Joel. Sound work and music are both used to potent effect, with the former, as it crashes out from the speakers in Joel’s car, heightening the sense of alienation and isolation as Joel stumbles around Barcelona, in a fruitless search for some kind of impossible redemption.
Production companies: Niu d’Indi, No Hay Banda
Cast: Borja Espinosa, Miki Esparbe, Maria Ribera, Pol Lopez, Silvia Esquivel
Director: Sergi Perez
Screenwriter: Sergi Perez, Eric Navarro, Roger Padilla
Producers: Sergi Perez, Eduard Broto, Aritz Cirbian
Director of photography: Julian Elizalde, Bet Rourich
Editor: Liana Artigal
Composer: Alex Sarda
Wardrobe: Ester Palaudaries
No rating, 85 minutes