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Downbeat Portrayal of Two Lonely Expats
l_rawjalaurence from London
7 October 2014
Roger Michell's LE WEEKEND (2013) offered a generally optimistic
analysis of a late middle-aged English couple visiting France and
rediscovering the point of their marriage. Virginia Gilbert's film
offers a far more pessimistic vision. Joseph (James Fox) and Brenda
(Brenda Fricker) have retired to the south of France and live in a
chocolate-box medieval village in a sun-drenched climate surrounded by
friendly locals. Life could not seem more perfect; but neither of them
are very happy. Brenda busies herself around the house; the highlight
of her day is the nightly visit to the local café where she exchanges
pleasantries with the maitre d'hotel (Frédéric Largier) and eats steak.
Joseph tries to deal with the monotony of his existence by taking daily
walks and watching the local retirees play pétanque.
Into this world come tourists Mark (Paul Nicholls) and Suzanne (Natalie
Dormier). They seem to enjoy the ambiance: Mark takes a shine to the
local vineyard, while Suzanne enjoys some of the historic sites.
However all is not quite as it should be: Mark dislikes Suzanne's
tendency to over-eat, while Suzanne questions whether she wants to
marry or not. Joseph takes a shine to her (although he is too much of a
gentleman ever to behave improperly), and the two of them spent much of
their time talking to one another. Nonetheless all good things come to
an end, as Suzanne and Mark return to England, leaving Joseph to
contend with his meaningless existence once more.
Gilbert's film makes much of the contrast between the idyllic
surroundings and the unhappiness of the elderly protagonists. Whereas
they obviously care for one another, they cannot admit that their
decision to embrace the expat life after retirement was the wrong one.
Brenda might or might not have the first signs of Alzheimer's; Joseph
simply cannot cope with the early summer heat. Yet neither of them are
capable of admitting their weaknesses; like two old soldiers they
stoically continue their existences.
The film adopts a minimalist style; there is little or no music, and
Gilbert favors the long, lingering close-up, especially on Fox's
features, as he walks aimlessly about the local village. In the final
sequences, when he is bed-ridden through exhaustion, Gilbert's camera
emphasizes his feeling of nothingness; he really has no reason to
continue living, even though his only in his early seventies.
A LONG WAY FROM HOME is a slow-moving film, interested more in mood and
situation rather than plot-development. Nonetheless it captures the
feelings of regret shared by many expats who have discovered that life
abroad is not quite as edenic as they had once assumed.
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