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D: Matthew Brown / 86m

Cast: Laia Costa, Thomas Mann

Bluebird (Costa) is a young Spanish woman who has come to America to distance herself from her marriage, and to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. On the trail she meets Lake (Mann), and they travel on together, getting to know each other (albeit slowly) and developing an odd kind of friendship. Along the way they meet other hikers who mistake them for a couple, but Bluebird is always quick to dispel this impression. This frustrates and annoys Lake who has developed a crush on Bluebird, and although she is friendly and conspiratorial toward him, she’s also distant and often unresponsive. As the hike continues, Lake tries to forge a closer, stronger relationship with her, but Bluebird remains emotionally reserved, and their uneasy friendship begins to unravel. But when an unexpected turn of events makes it seem as if they’re about to become closer still, the lure of a nearby town prompts Bluebird to abandon her hike without completing it. It also means the probable end of her relationship with Lake, something that he doesn’t know how to deal with. As they head into town in the back of a pick-up truck, the fate of their friendship seems entirely decided…

Opening with a wordless ten-minute sequence that places its main character firmly in the movie’s physical setting, Maine is a low-budget indie offering with a surfeit of ambition that is only fitfully exploited. On the surface, it’s about Bluebird and her search for some kind of meaning to her life – the reason she’s left Spain and her husband is never revealed – but as Matthew Brown’s debut feature (he also wrote the script) unfolds with slow, painful deliberation, whether this is really the case becomes open to question. Much of this is down to Bluebird’s wayward behaviour and the inconsistency that punctuates the time we spend with her. And though it’s always possible that said wayward behaviour could be indicative of a mind that is struggling to make sense of the thoughts inside it, because Brown chooses to make Bluebird’s motivations more ephemeral than concrete, the viewer has no choice but to interpret matters on their own and hope for the best. For many this will mean a frustrating, disappointing viewing experience that tests their patience, and much like Bluebird herself, will mean whether or not they see things through until the end. Though Brown may be aiming for ambiguity, when it’s all there is, it’s not as satisfying as it might sound.

This being essentially a two-hander – other hikers and later, a handful of townspeople, drift in and out of the narrative – much depends on the performances of Costa and Mann. Costa made a big impact in Victoria (2015), and since then has made consistently interesting choices, but here she’s saddled with a character whose arc goes nowhere (though that may be a deliberate choice – who knows?). As a result she gives a spirited yet mannered portrayal that hints at Bluebird being bi-polar, while Mann can only respond by looking confused, upset or defeated by her often callous attitude towards Lake. Their relationship flits between friendly and adversarial, optimistic and regressive, but with all these disparate elements in play it’s hard to know which are sincere and which are diversionary tactics employed by Brown to give the semblance of greater depth to the characters and the material overall. In the end, and despite everyone’s best efforts, Maine remains the kind of movie where getting to know and understand the main protagonists feels as if more effort is required than is necessary, and Brown’s directorial choices serve only to highlight how distant Bluebird and Lake remain from an audience that can’t really connect with them.

Rating: 5/10 – an unsuccessful foray into “trail movie” territory that hints at long-buried emotional traumas in both its main characters, but which refuses to explore them except superficially, Maine undermines audience expectations at every turn by remaining oblique and often dramatically inert; blessed though by Donald R. Monroe’s movement of the camera, and a succession of perfectly framed shots of the Appalachian Trail itself, this will no doubt have its supporters, but this is one time where the Emperor really has forgotten to dress himself before going out in public.