Stunning visuals, wandering plot in cerebral road movie 'Here'
A review of Braden King's metaphysical road movie, "Here," which stars Ben Foster as an American satellite-mapping engineer and Lubna Azabal as an Armenian expatriate photographer.
The New York Times
'Here,' with Ben Foster, Lubna Azabal, Peter Coyote. Directed by Braden King, from a screenplay by King and Dani Valent. 126 minutes. Not rated. In English and Armenian, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
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. In the most evocative scene, the camera slowly pans across pastures framed by distant mountains, where 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.
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. 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. Foster plays Will, an American satellite-mapping engineer whose job is to match objects on the ground to satellite photos. Azabal's character, Gadarine, is an Armenian expatriate photographer who has returned to her homeland from abroad following a successful Paris exhibition.
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 too often wanders off into poetic vagueness. But visually, "Here," filmed by Lol Crowley, is still a stunner.