‘Lost North’ (‘Sin Norte’): Valdivia Review

LOST NORTH still 1 - H 2015
Courtesy of Luis Cifuentes
A bouncy but captivating ride.

Fernando Lavandero’s boy-chases-girl road movie took the Special Jury Prize at Chile’s recent Valdivia festival.

As a concept, Lost North could have gone anywhere. A road movie about a guy who loses his girl and heads off into the wild in pursuit of her, guided by videos she’s downloaded to a computer he’s found: it could end up being thriller, romance, existentialist meditation or any number of films, and the deceptively rambling North is a little bit of each, craftily harnessed in a way that makes it look easy.

Extremely watchable, in a downbeat, grungy kind of way, Fernando Lavanderos' follow-up to Things The Way They Are mitigates against the potential tedium of the road movie form by its nicely shambolic central performance, courtesy of Koke Santa Ana, a cast of entertainingly pìcturesque secondaries, perpetual deftness of touch and some of Latin America’s most striking scenery, including the salt flats of the Atacama Desert. Lost North is not just another film about a guy who's lost his way, it's more about the people who help him find it. As such, this is one road movie that deserves to travel.

Esteban (Koke Santa Ana, best-known for his work on the Chilean comedy series Gringolandia -- about a Chilean in the US) has been left by his girlfriend Isabel (Geraldine Neary) -- after, we later learn, they’ve lost their unborn child He finds an iPad onto which she’s been downloading footage of her travels and decides to follow her trail, thus setting in motion a dynamic which shuttles between footage of Esteban and footage taken by Isabel (and apparently really taken by Neary).

The journey will take an increasingly frazzled Esteban from Santiago to the border with Bolivia, a journey of close to 900 miles. Along the way he’ll encounter a series of characters who Isabel has left behind and who will provoke both him and the viewer into reflection, as road movies are wont to do. In El Bolsico he sleeps with an archaeology student (Francesca Traverso), thus putting a huge question mark over his own jealousy when he later sees in-your-face footage of Isabel kissing Juan (Juan Marcos Valencia). He encounters the elderly Jose (Jose Arriagada), who lives separately from his wife for three weeks every month, a lesson in modern living for the young Esteban, who’ll pick up several more life lessons along the way in a film of many moods. Meanwhile, having a abandoned a work project, he is fired: but he doesn't really care that much.

Isabel’s footage is random, impressionistic, spontaneous and often eye-catching, shot through with a joyfulness which seems to evaporate as soon as Esteban turns up in the same place. Indeed, things become darker through the film’s second half as the local people become less distrusting of this outsider from Santiago showing them a photo of a woman and asking if they’ve seen her. Inevitably, at a certain point Esteban’s car breaks down on the edge of the Atacama desert and he’s left to work it out.

Lavandero’s previous film, the more conventionally offbeat and less daring Things, was a Karlovy Vary award winner. Splicing documentary footage into Esteban’s story takes real skill: the director’s success in doing so meaningfully gives North a real edge. Presumably Lavanderos’ intention is not simply to make the standard, navel-gazing exploration of one unhappy man’s soul, but to celebrate the existence of those (real) people who he encounters along the way.

One of these is Yasna Marabolíin in Tocopilla, living in a roadside hut, singing songs about freedom in a cracked voice and unforgettable. Another is the mystic Nilio Farias in Chanaral, who assures Esteban that he can help him travel through space and time with just a few simple hand movements. “I’m the only person who practices this art of intercontinental travel,” Nilio, assures Esteban: the film is part-dedicated to his memory.

An ecological agenda is also built into the deceptively tight structure of Lost North, with comments made about the percentage of the budget which goes to the capital, Santiago, and the resentment this causes in the provinces -- and, near the end, tender, striking scenes of dying cacti and the attempts of Raquel Pinto to keep them alive. (This scene also provides surely one of the great actor credits: “Man who argues about cactus in Pisagua”.)

And all the while, Esteban, in pursuit of Isabel in what, he himself comes to learn, a self-centered pilgrimage which can only end up by harming both of them. If he’d just have sat down on Day One and watched all her footage in Santiago, he could have saved himself a whole load of trouble: but then we’d never have had Lost North, and that would have been a great shame.

Production company: Duende Films, Lucho Films
Cast: Koke Santa Ana, Geraldine Neary, Alfonso Sanchez, Francesca Traverso, Jose Arriagada, Nilio Farias, Raquel Pinto, Miguel Rodriguez,, Yasna Marabolí, Juan Marcos Valencia
Director: Fernando Lavanderos
Screenwriters: Ernesto Ayala, Elisa Eliash, Fernando Lavanderos
Producer: Luis Cifuentes
Director of photography: Andres Garces
Production designer: Bernardita Baeza, Nicole Guzman
Editor: Rodrigo Saquel
Composer: Sebastian Vergara
Sales: Lucho Films

No rating, 99 minutes