There comes a point in life – and in the passage of a movie – when one naturally questions what it’s all been about. As we live it (life, that is), some of us ask that question every day. While some of us search for an answer that defies our time, others find contentment in accepting a simple slogan, lesson, or adage that capably sums up where we are emotionally or psychologically in the present. We tend to forget much of the past, or, at least, we remember it in fleeting flashes of memory – a pleasing face here, a powerful fragrance there – but rarely if ever does the sum total of these recollections equal a life lived in full. Rather, they’re passing inspirations and quizzical remembrances of things gone by. In fairness, it can’t be more than that, because as the picture’s intrusive narrator told us when the story began: “Truth is conjecture.” And then director Braden King even felt it appropriate to remind the audience it was watching a movie – as if they didn’t know that already – by including some curious set-up shots.
For all of its intellectual posturing, HERE feels as if it desperately wants to be something more than just a romantic picture. It feels as if it’s supposed to be a testament to how love begins in the most unexpected places and how it grows organically into something memorable and real. It feels as if it’s trying to say something about how the one thing that unites disparate cultures has to be love – love, the truly unique human experience. It feels as if it’s trying to say that intimacy can be fully achieved in even the most wide open spaces because true closeness is a state of mind and not a state of geography. Well, see, the problem with that is the film already said “truth is conjecture,” so I suppose the film could feel like it didn’t want to say those things, either.
Will Shepard (played by Ben Foster) is an American satellite-mapping engineer assigned to a project in Armenia. At his hotel’s café one morning, he meets Gadarine Najarian (Lubna Azabal), and the film essentially chronicles their brief, passionate affair against the country’s natural landscape. While Shepard’s true assignment remains a bit elusive (there are strong hints that different political factions in the country hold competing agendas), the fact that there are errors in his cartography isn’t – either he’s constantly messing up or the satellites are having difficulty in aligning his data. Eventually, these failures force his company to recall Will, and there’s the dilemma: can the lovers part knowing how deeply they feel for one another, or do they try to find some means with which to continue their relationship?
HERE has some wonderful moments, and most of them lie in the exploration to these two characters. What more poignant metaphor could there be for love than that of a wayward mapmaker? Shepard’s so intent on knowing where he is at all times that he loses sight of how deeply Gadarine’s presence affects him. And how more poetic could it be than to discover that his mate is a burgeoning artist, one who fascinates others with her constant Polaroids? She’s used to seeing life through a camera lens and in quick still photographs; how could she not see how Shepard’s living movements were weaving into her soul? It is here (no pun intended) – in the exploration of two very real, very human beings – that HERE expresses its greatest strengths. These are two kindred spirits being tossed about the sea of life; they find one another, sparks ignite, and they connect on levels one never detects alone but only with a soul mate. If HERE had stayed there (in matters of the heart which have no map), I’ve no doubt it would’ve been a stronger picture, one far more widely embraced than the art house creation King delivered, but it may not have won accolades from the art house industry. Instead, HERE traveled elsewhere into the terrain of the academic, and I felt the core of the film morphed into something very different, organic, and unnecessary. Kudos for trying something different; such is the life (and demands) of the artiste.
HERE was produced by Lion & Wheel, Parts and Labor, and Truckstop Media. DVD distribution is being handled by Strand Releasing. The disc looks and sounds exceptional, though there were some modest noise-loss issues with a few interior locations where dialogue levels suddenly dropped for no reason I could figure. The film won the NHK International Filmmakers Award at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as the C.I.C.A.E. (International Confederation of Art House Cinemas) Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Bonus features include eight short films (from “contemporary avant-garde filmmakers”), some nifty photo galleries of Gadarine’s photos from the film (you’ll understand when you watch), and some theatrical trailers: it’s a respectable collection, but nothing to write home about if you’re looking more for what the director’s intent truly was here. At 126 minutes, HERE felt much too long for my tastes; the difference was elevating a more traditional road-trip romance into an art house reflection on life, which frankly felt too cold and clinical with Peter Coyote’s narration for my tastes.
RECOMMENDED. HERE is not a difficult film to like; to the contrary, it may be a difficult film to understand. Principally, that’s because writer/director King tried to layer it with so many artistic possibilities and inexorably long passages in order to cover all the bases. King should’ve decided what he wanted it to be definitively and then left it in Foster and Azabal’s capable hands because – so far as the relationship appears – it’s a winner. Too much of ‘this’, along with too much of ‘that’, bloated the picture unnecessarily; and, instead of having a picture about the curious intersections of life, you end up with the curious reflections of a writer/director.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the good folks at Strand Releasing provided me with a DVD screener of HERE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.