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Downbeat Portrayal of Two Lonely Expats

7/10
Author: 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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