Braden King’s ‘Here’ Raises Questions of Philosophy
There are vistas in Braden King’s metaphysical road movie, “Here,” that are so beautiful you want to step through the screen and disappear into the Armenian landscape where much of it was filmed. In the most evocative scene, the camera slowly pans across pastures framed by distant mountains in which cattle graze amid a sprawling grid of power lines.
In another startling juxtaposition of pastoral and technological images, a traveler in Armenia uses a Google map to go from outer space to the heart of San Francisco in seconds. What does it imply that nowadays you can bask in an Armenian field and visit an American city at exactly the same moment? The trains of thought stirred up by the film’s contemplation of what is here and what is there — and where you are — are endless and stimulating. And the movie is embellished with spectacularly beautiful, enigmatic bursts of abstract imagery.
More problematic is an intermittent narrator (Peter Coyote) who meditates in poetic language on the conflicting aesthetics of science and exploration and on the notion that “truth is conjecture.” If what he says is helpful in deciphering the film’s aesthetics, it also sounds grandiose. And as the movie advances, you discover that the ideas voiced by the narrator are embedded in scenes that need no further explication. This is a film that begins with a printed announcement: “The story is asleep. It dreams.” Whatever that means.
The scientist and the artistic explorer are embodied by Ben Foster (“The Messenger”) and Lubna Azabal (“Incendies”), an attractive couple with chemistry. Mr. Foster plays Will, an American satellite-mapping engineer whose job is to match objects on the ground to satellite photos. Ms. Azabal’s character, Gadarine, is an Armenian expatriate photographer who has returned to her homeland from abroad following a successful Paris exhibition of her Polaroid snapshots.
After they meet by chance in a restaurant where she translates his breakfast order into Armenian, Gadarine becomes Will’s traveling companion on a quest to photograph the rapidly changing country that she left behind. She also serves as Will’s de facto interpreter, and the two become lovers.
Both are searchers, she for her past, he for the future. Remembering his childhood growing up in a Northern California vineyard, Will recalls taking long walks in which he tried to get lost. “I wanted to find the edge of the world,” he says.
In a toast while drinking homemade vodka with some locals, he is saluted for creating maps that “bring wisdom to the world.” But do they? And is wisdom the right word? Gadarine, upon returning to her peasant family, is treated as a prodigal daughter who is wasting her life by not settling down and doing “real” work.
With its layers of weighted dialogue, “Here” has a lot in common with Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy,” a film whose intellectual superstructure didn’t preclude the emergence of vivid, quirky personalities. The same can’t be said of “Here,” where the ideas are more implied than stated, and Will and Gadarine never completely break out of their symbolic shells.
They ultimately clash, when Gadarine accuses Will of skimming the surface of the world while gathering geographic data that will be used for corporate exploitation of Armenian resources. In her pictures she is trying to preserve the moment and the sense of place that his work is helping to erase.
“Here,” to its detriment, never builds its ideas into a cohesive vision. The screenplay by Mr. King and Dani Valent too often wanders off into poetic vagueness. But visually, “Here,” filmed by Lol Crowley, is still a stunner. Flawed as it is, I admire it immensely.
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Directed by Braden King; written by Mr. King and Dani Valent; director of photography, Lol Crowley; edited by David Barker, Andrew Hafitz and Paul Zucker; music by Michael Krassner; production design by Richard A. Wright; costumes by Amanda Ford; produced by Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy; released by Strand Releasing. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. In English and Armenian, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Ben Foster (Will Shepard) and Lubna Azabal (Gadarine Najarian).