27 October, 2010

I Travel Because I Need To, I Come Back Because I Love You (2009)

I wonder in what order filmmakers Karim Ainouz and Marcelo Gomez compiled the art film Viajo porque preciso, volto porque te amo (I Travel Because I Need To, I Come Back Because I Love You).  Did they film the images--grainy, lingering scenes filmed with a lonely handheld Super 8 and vibrant, colorful still photographs--first and then realize that few people would sit through their seventy-five minutes of interesting pictures unless there were the pretense of some story, some characters, and a bit of dialogue?  Or did they actually write the screenplay--the commonplace tale of a man trying to run away from a bad relationship, drowning his despair in work, alcohol, and meaningless sexual relationships--and then set out to film it?

For a number of reasons I'm inclined to believe the former.  First, because the images on screen often have little to do with the words being muttered by the monotonous, unseen narrator.  Second, because the arresting visuals have a serendipitous and documentary-like feel that don't seem as though they've been strained through the narrow holes of the movie's plot.  And third, because the filmmakers are far superior cinematographers than they are writers, and it seems unlikely that the visuals were filmed only to suit their writing vision and not vice versa.

The narrator (voiced by Irandhir Santos) is a dull and lifeless geologist who has recently been divorced by his botanist wife.  He leaves on a work assignment, ascending the mountains in northeastern Brazil in order to survey a route for a planned canal that will displace hundreds of rural inhabitants.  In the isolation of the mountain peaks, he longs for his wife, he sleeps with a dozen young prostitutes, he gets drunk and nearly crashes his car, and just in time for the ending he has some epiphany that sets him free and allows him to move forward with his life.  What is this sudden, transcendental epiphany?  The filmmakers don't bother explaining.  The whole plot is by-the-numbers, and in the end there is happiness, it seems, simply because the writers wanted a happy ending.  The internal monologue that forms the narration is delivered as though it is poetry, but it is composed entirely of platitudes and dull complaints.  Very rarely do the words evoke any genuine stirrings of life.  For the most part the narrator is a flat, gray canvas painted with a few broad strokes.

The images are often enticing--an aged woman trimming a bouquet of foam roses, a pig crossing a desolate road, a sunworn couple staring awkwardly at the camera before a wall covered in devotional pictures of Christ--but they hardly make up for the gut-wrenching mediocrity of the narration.  Throughout the film--particularly when he muses on how a young peasant girl's eyes look exactly like the honey eyes of his ex-wife--I found myself wishing I were rewatching Chris Marker's Sans Soleil (1983).  There was a film with a hodgepodge of captivating, alien imagery and a voice over narration to match.  The monologues in Sans Soleil begged to be memorized, recited, and studied.  The narration in Viajo porque preciso calls only for an exaggerated rolling of the eyes.

Viajo porque preciso, volto porque te amo (2009)
d/w: Karim Ainouz, Marcelo Gomes
(Irandhir Santos)

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