Braden King's lyrical cinepoem Here is one of those movies so fully achieved it restores your faith in the cinema. An extended tone poem about a brief encounter between an American cartographer (Ben Foster) and an Armenian photographic artiste (Lubna Azabal), Here utilizes the surreal landscape of contemporary Armenia as a kind of undiscovered planet. The raw natural beauty of the rolling landscape and post Soviet urban blight is the perfect external metaphor for a fable about loneliness, the restless affliction of the congenital wanderer and the momentary consolations even the most solitary among us can find when we open ourselves to another heart. Visually sumptuous and with areal literary beauty in both its narrative structure and dialogue, this precious and philosophical character piece has hopefully found a loving distributor in K5 International who will nurture it and bring it to the thoughtful, adventurous audience it so richly deserves.
Here begins with a title card reading: "The story is still asleep. It dreams." We are launched into the first of a series of brief arias about the futility of cartography, and of the general and eternal quest of the human species to affix, to transcribe, to prove. Will (Foster, in another chameleon reinvention) is an unlikely member of the travelling tribe who have measured and defined the contours of the world down the centuries: a classic American ex-pat archetype in his baseball hat, full but closely groomed beard and designer eyeglasses. In another era, he might be wearing a pith helmet and calling what he does a safari; he has a deep case of wanderlust, more than a bit of the American sense of entitlement, and though ostensibly a man assigned to match landscapes to satellite imaging, his real quest is to avoid fixed addresses—to get away from himself.
A random encounter with a haughty, intelligent Armenian woman (a radiant Azabal) evolves into something more when it emerges that she too lives between worlds. For Gadarine has made the impossible journey from a simple Armenian village to the salons of Paris, where her career is beginning to blossom. But the cost of what might seem an exciting life is almost too great to bear—she has become a stranger in her own country, an orphan whose parents still breathe, and marvel at her when she returns to them as if they've seen a daydream move and speak, or encountered a ghost.
A highly believable second world journey materializes when Gadarine asks to join Will so she can take pictures as he moves across her homeland—a trip filled with chance encounters among hard working villagers who drink too much, breed like rabbits and seem altogether grounded in ways Will and Gadarine either never have been or never will be again. Love, when it comes, emerges slowly, believably and with a sudden sensual directness that manages to have the look and feel of sex as we actually encounter it (as opposed to the way movies make it seem) while at the same time dovetailing perfectly with the overall mood of lyricism.
King's techniques vary between bravura and sophisticated subtleties. The dream sequences punctuating the movie frequently recall the grit and emulsion-derived beauty of sandwiched negatives and old school optical printing; are all stunning, and could easily stand on their own as brilliant experimental shorts. In the narrative proper, the imagery gradually shifts from remotely beautiful full shots to intimate close-ups, matching the shifts in Will and Gadarine's relationship with the patient synchronicity of a dancer learning to waltz.
The novelistic density of some brief but significant voiceover narration at the top of the film is a kind of gauntlet thrown down from the first frame, telling the audience that this intelligent and even intellectual work will not spoon feed, pander or talk down to its viewers, but rather communicate with them as though it believes in their sophistication, their spirit of adventure. It is the fundamental tragedy of filmmaking, especially as practiced in America, that many distribution types will see that as a deficit—we can find 3000 screens for travesties about leotards, explosions and the fetishization of weaponry and cars, while works of specificity and vision are punished for the very virtues sought for in all the other visual arts. There is absolutely a measurable constituency for films like Here. That said constituency has gotten used to seeking movies that can satisfy its own restlessness via film festivals, and that it expects those films to speak only in foreign tongues may say more about the logic behind the recent collapse of American attendance figures than all the YouTubes videos, Facebook posts and Wii consoles put together. If you're a risk-taking viewer looking for something that challenges, gratifies and deeply moves, it's all right Here.
Distributor: K5 International
Cast: Ben Foster, Lubna Azabal, Alla Sahakyan and Narek Nersisyan
Director: Braden King
Screenwriters: Braden King and Dani Valent
Producers: Braden King, Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy
Running time: 110 min.
Release date: Unset