‘One Hundred Days of Solitude’ (‘Cien Dias de Soledad’): Film Review

Courtesy of Wanda Films
Jose Diaz in 'One Hundred Days of Solitude.'
Thoreau with a GoPro.

This Spanish film is a documentary record of one Spaniard’s project to live for 100 days in nature with no human contact.

“In the future," the sole protagonist of One Hundred Days of Solitude tells us, “silence and solitude will be as rare as gold." In September 2015, the Spanish businessman and photographer Jose Diaz headed into a remote mountain region in northern Spain to spend 100 days living in a cabin with only his horse and a few chickens for company.

Partly a visually stunning celebration of nature and partly a record of Diaz’s triumphs and trials, both practical and psychological, Days, which takes its titular cue (and nothing else) from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, aims at reconsideration of our relationship with nature and our place in it and, despite going overboard on the grandiose drone images, mainly does so in a winningly down-to-earth way. Though the film has plenty of urgent messages for our misguided times, it is likeliest to slot into documentary fests with an ecological focus, where sadly it will be preaching to the converted.

From the outset, Diaz tells us that Walden is his favorite book, and his aims in isolating himself seem to have been similar to Thoreau’s — to rediscover the lost connection between man and nature, and to figure out how many social trappings a person can shed and still be happy. (Days is also an homage to his dead brother, who introduced Diaz to the area.) It’s soon clear that Diaz’s struggles up the mountainside, carrying not only a rucksack but also a weighty tripod, will be rewarded by some stunning images, and Days is indeed a lovely thing to behold, whether Diaz is training his lens on a spider's web or recording, via drone, the spectacular mountain scenery of fall and early winter. The involvement of Gerardo Olivares, a director whose oeuvre includes some of Spain’s most striking nature-based films of recent years, acts as a virtual guarantee that, at the very least, Diaz’s film will be eye candy.

Nature itself is what Diaz focuses on, inevitably giving matters an ecological slant as with great care, respect and a Richard Attenborough-like muffled voice he goes in search of special shots of wild deer, owls, wild boar and of wolves. But his day-to-day struggles are also recorded, and the shudder-inducing outdoor showers are only the beginning. When a ferret gets into the coop, killing the chickens and refusing to emerge, Diaz has to use every trick in the book to tempt the intruder out without killing it. The stakes are high: This is Diaz’s food.

Less rewarding, because he stands less to lose by it, are Diaz’s struggles to recover his drone after it falls out of the sky. The viewer might even be hoping that he doesn’t find it: Too much screen time is given over to drone footage, as though Diaz has found a new toy and is determined to use it. (Though it's never mentioned, Diaz must have spent an enormous amount of his time in the mountains setting up his recordings.) For all the beauty of the aerial images, they unbalance the film, which is most rewarding in its moments of quiet intimacy.

Special mention has to be made of the sound. Diaz is alert to not only the visual beauty of nature, but to its noises. In particular, one nocturnal sequence at the end, where he imitates a wolf and hears in return wolves calling back to him through the darkness in a veritable symphony of howls, truly earns the epithet "magical." And on the issue of sound, Diaz has to perform exercises to prevent him from losing his voice — one of the less-expected consequences of isolation.

There is not much voiceover, since Diaz seems to be a man of few words, but what there is, is telling. As the days pass, Diaz misses his family (though interestingly not his work colleagues) more and more, and longs for the letters they write to him, which he occasionally descends to the valley below to pick up, and which he holds to his nose, as keen for their smell as their words. The further you are from people, Diaz’s realizes, the closer you feel to them, and, indeed, he starts using his drone to record his son, on the roads far below in his van.

It is here that Days is most touching on a human level. It is evidence perhaps that, for all that can be learned by putting yourself through such an experience, and for all Diaz's implicit criticism of the furious treadmill of modern life and the inanities of social media, 100 days of self-imposed solitude is about as much as any person can reasonably stand.

Production companies: Wanda Films
Directors: Jose Diaz, Gerardo Olivares
Screenwriter: Jose Diaz
Producer: Jose Maria Morales
Director of photography: Jose Diaz
Editor: Juan Barrero
Composer: Pablo Diaz
Sales: Wanda Films

93 minutes