D: Pete Ohs, Andrea Sisson / 91m
Cast: Julia Garner, Joseph Cross, C.S. Lee, Jillian Mayer
Trekking across a nameless desert with no destination in mind, or any particular idea of where he is in relation to anywhere else, Lernert (Cross) is alone except for a robot head he carries with him, called Susan (Mayer). Lernert has a plan to provide Susan with a new body, but the occasional items he finds on his journey are largely unsuitable. One day he discovers a young woman (Garner) who has eaten a poisonous root vegetable. Saving her life, he attempts to connect with her, but she prefers to continue her own travels by herself. Later, the tables are turned when Lernert suffers an injury that renders him unconscious, and the woman, whose name is Rola, tends to his wound. While he’s unconscious she finds an illustrated book that Lernert is writing called The Quest for the Key. The story mentions a crystal lake, which Rola finds too coincidental: she is searching for a semi-mythical crystal lake located somewhere in the desert. When Lernert comes to, he tells her he doesn’t know anything about it, but they agree to look for it together. And when they find a power source that allows Susan to be “woken up”, she reveals that she knows how to gude them there…
If you’re a fan of slow moving, leisurely paced, yet absorbing sci-fi movies set in an uncertain future, then Everything Beautiful Is Far Away will be exactly what you’re looking for. Winner of the US Fiction Cinematography Award at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival, the movie looks and feels like an elegiac meditation on the will (and the need) to believe in something greater than oneself – the crystal lake as a symbol of hope, and possibly, redemption – and the importance of the journey towards it. Lernert appears to have a purpose in wandering the desert, but it’s mainly to stay alive and avoid any signs of civilisation (at one point a city can be glimpsed in the distance, but the ominous cloud hanging over it acts as a warning: don’t go there). Whatever has happened, Lernert is doing his best to get away from it. Likewise Rola, though her goal is clearer and more defined: there’s a crystal lake and even though there’s no proof it exists, she’s determined to find it. Part wishful thinking, part survivalist mantra, Rola’s search for the lake brooks no discussion. With nothing better to do to occupy his time, what else should Lernert do but accompany her?
Most movies of this nature would soon have its lead characters becoming romantically attached, but screenwriter and co-director Ohs has other ideas, and keeps Rola and Lernert at arms length from each other. Instead they become friends, and this is much more realistic and in keeping with the movie’s modest aims and ambitions. Ohs slowly builds up their relationship, and their increasing reliance on each other, and as their journey continues, they also learn from each other. Ohs and Sisson ensure these developments play out naturally and with little to no artifice, and their efforts are rewarded by note perfect performances from Garner and Cross. There’s subtlety and nuance to both their roles, and though we learn nothing of their characters’ back stories (or what catastrophe has befallen the world), we’re more than happy to follow them on their search for the lake. The co-directors also keep things interesting visually, emphasising the bleakness and the beauty of the desert landscapes Rola and Lernert are traversing, while also including themes relating to our reliance on technology, and why our belief systems are so important to us. It’s perhaps a polarising movie – you’ll either love it or hate it – but there’s no denying that it’s unexpectedly compelling, and a refreshing change from more mainstream fare.
Rating: 8/10 – a singular movie that takes chances with its narrative, though they’re rewarding ones over all, Everything Beautiful Is Far Away is affecting and beautifully rendered; the sci-fi elements are downplayed in favour of a more traditional dramatic approach, Alan Palomo provides a musical backdrop that is oddly reflective of Lernert and Rola’s unusual journey, and the cinematography – by Ohs and Christian Sorensen Hansen – is well deserving of its festival award.