By Don Simpson | May 20, 2012
Director: Braden King
Writers: Braden King, Dani Valent
Starring: Ben Foster, Lubna Azabal, Peter Coyote, Narek Nersisyan, Aren Vatyan, Christina Hovaguimyan, Datekiv Kharibyan
Will (Ben Foster) is a California-based cartographer on contract in Armenia to confirm the satellite mapping of the country. He travels around Armenia, making frequent stops along the way; he whips out his laptop and antennas, connects to the satellite, then moves on to his next location. It is a lonely existence. Will does not know Armenian, and most of the Armenians he encounters do not know English. The only way Will seems to be able to connect with Armenians is via his penchant for alcohol — Will has a knack for becoming fast friends with Armenians after a few shots of vodka.
On one fateful morning, Will is hungover. He just wants to order an omelette at the hotel cafe, but he frustratingly fumbles in his attempts to communicate with the waitress. He can repeat the word “egg” all he wants, but she is never going to understand him.
Luckily, Gadarine (Lubna Azabal) comes to his rescue. A world traveler, Gadarine is able to translate for Will. Gadarine is Armenian; she has just returned to her ancestral homeland after winning a photography grant in Paris. Gadarine comes from a working class family in Armenia, and they do not understand Gadarine’s bohemian lifestyle. They cannot comprehend why Gadarine would want to party with the Armenian elite, or vice versa. Why can’t Gadarine just stay at home with her parents — maybe even settle down with a good Armenian man?
Will and Gadarine become traveling companions who develop a romance of convenience. Neither of them seem all that invested in their relationship; they are much too invested in their own existential crises. Since we learn more about Gadarine and her situation, her motives seem much less selfish than Will; unfortunately, Will comes off as a grumpy and closed-off asshole who only loosens up whenever he is drunk. Will is so secretive and reserved that he refuses to even divulge any information about his job. (Maybe he is a spy?) Maybe Gadarine and Will are attracted to each other because they are both so lost and confused? They are both attempting to navigate the world and find the right place for to exist. They are looking for the perfect “here” to call home. The problem is that both characters have a history of running rather than staying and dealing with things. With this approach to life, they might never discover their “here.”
There is a reason that Will is a cartographer and Gadarine is a photographer — their careers explain to us the different ways they perceive the world. Will is a scientist; he is as detached and calculated as a satellite, observing the world from afar. His detachment from the world is further exemplified by his presence in a country where he is unable to communicate with others. Gadarine is a dreamer; she has made a career of capturing the vibrant minutia of every day life. She transforms her surroundings into art. Most likely a polyglot, Gadarine is able to interact with the world, no matter where she is — this will probably come in handy since her lifestyle has practically exiled her from her homeland.
Writer-director Braden King’s oblique and allusive visual approach to the narrative is what really draws me in — especially the Stan Brakhage-esque montages (though Peter Coyote’s voiceover narration is maybe a bit too heavy-handed for me). King relies quite heavily upon Lol Crawley’s cinematography to convey any sense of emotion or significance. Here basically places its two protagonists in a location that they are both at odds with; so it is the country of Armenia (primarily its culture, politics, economics and geography) that causes the tensions of the film, not the characters themselves. The characters barely speak (this is partially because Will is rendered mute by his inability to communicate with anyone but Gadarine), they mostly observe the landscape around them.
Here seems to be more about Gadarine (she is certainly the only empathetic character), though Will’s perspective seems more prevalent in the context of the narrative. By spending so much time with Will, King builds an impenetrable wall around the film that is very similar to the one Will has built around himself. It is as if King — like Will — does not want to tell us anything about anything. Here could have been a very intriguing story about a woman’s sense of disconnect with her family and homeland; instead, it is essentially about a secretive and mopey American.