Home Video Hovel- Here, by Kyle Anderson
We’ve all seen road movies, characters traveling across a wide, impressive landscape on some idea of a grand adventure. Sometimes this can be engaging and moving and sometimes it’s just an exercise in pensive staring and navel gazing. Braden King’s film Here is a bit of both. The film has good performances and occasionally closes in on the point it’s trying to make, but too often it’s just people sitting in a car or standing outside. Not that this stuff was done badly, mind; King clearly understands how to shoot a film to maximize the beauty of the places he’s shooting, but merely having a gorgeous scenery to look at and weird interludes narrated by Peter Coyote don’t constitute a good movie, do they?
The film stars Ben Foster as Will Shepherd, a cartographer tasked with creating a fuller and more accurate map of the country of Armenia. This entails matching satellite imagery with what’s actually there, in a practice called “ground-truthing.” Will is a loner and enjoys his solitary work. He doesn’t know the language and has to get by on loud, slow English and rudimentary charades, until, while trying to order an omelet in his lodging’s café, he meets a young Armenian woman named Gadarine (Lubna Azabal) who speaks fluent English. She’s been away for quite a long time and is slowly trying to reacquaint herself with her friends and family. After a second chance meeting, Gadarine decides to accompany Will on his work expedition as he’ll be passing through where her parents and best friends live. As they traverse the Armenian landscape, Will and Gadarine’s bond strengthens and gets tested as they each deal with their internal struggle to figure out where they go from “here.”
Both actors are good and their chemistry is believable and somewhat awkward, the way it would be if you go off with someone you don’t know that well. I think the real problem is that King doesn’t go far enough. Most of their “bonding” comes in the form of them just being in the car together, not saying a whole lot. I’m not opposed to the idea of a relationship growing without dialogue by any means, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that they’d develop this deep, emotional connection above just being enticed and attracted to each other. Foster and Azabal are interesting, compelling actors and it would have been nice to see them in scenes where they’re asked to do more than just look at each other for awhile.
Some of the best scenes are when Will and Gadarine visit friends of hers and though Will and the male friend cannot understand each other at all, they forge a friendship over very strong alcohol and handshakes. That kind of stuff is really where this movie shines. The strained relationship between Gadarine and her family isn’t as moving as it probably should be and I think that’s only due to the family’s limited screen time. There’s also a subplot, I guess, about how Will’s work will really only benefit the mafia, but I’m still not entirely sure why, nor is it explained in detail or anything more than a mention.
King also goes down the film school, lookie-what-I-can-do route with parts of the film. Throughout the movie, there are little interludes wherein one of the world’s best narrators, actor Peter Coyote, tells us a story about explorers creating maps. These are coupled with pieces of context-free film of landscapes done in a sort of Stan Brakhage-like fashion. These segments open and close the film as well as separate the story into sections. What exactly their purpose is other than just doing something arty is lost on me. The final Coyote segment shows us an epilepsy-inducing montage of the entire film, sped up and punctuated with flashing white frames. I know we’re supposed to equate the journey of the explorers in the story to Will and Gadarine, but it was a stretch.
All this being said, I didn’t dislike Here, nor really did I like it. It was just a movie. It would have been something much more impactful if it had more of a direct throughline. At over two hours long, I would have liked a little more story development and a little less staring at stuff. Still, director Braden King has a way with natural scenery and scope and if he develops a better handle on script, he’s bound to make a more engaging movie for his sophomore effort.