A Long Way From Home
Dir: Virginia Gilbert
There’s an overriding sense of frustration that festers throughout A Long Way From Home, the debut feature from Irish director Virginia Gilbert. What’s unfortunate is that this pervasive feeling manages to infect its audience, rather than merely the onscreen proceedings.
The film sees James Fox and Brenda Fricker play an elderly couple, Joseph and Brenda, living out their retirements in a small, idyllic French town. The surroundings are picturesque – Roman ruins, vineyards, canals – but in reality the couple are isolated, ensnared in a routine that becomes all too familiar over the course of the brisk running time. Brenda appears perfectly happy to while away her days doing crosswords on their balcony and visiting the same restaurant night after night, but Fox’s Joseph is clearly unfulfilled. He repeatedly wanders the town; reserved, lost, and quietly desperate, and the film makes good use of sound to further this feeling of understated suffocation. A soundtrack of dissonant, ambient noise builds periodically; amplifying the stifling, oppressive atmosphere that Gilbert does well to culture.
Things subsequently shift when Brenda and Joseph meet a younger couple, Mark and Suzanne (Paul Nicholls and Natalie Dormer), a chance encounter that breaks the staid monotony of their lives in ‘paradise’. It’s at this point that A Long Way From Home begins to unravel. Suddenly Joseph is infatuated with Suzanne, and though Fox and Dormer give competent performances, the interactions between their two characters are bizarre and utterly incongruous – the former creepily besotted, the latter bafflingly oblivious.
In principle, the film bears a striking resemblance to the superb Lost In Translation, however where Sofia Coppola’s film was romantic, poetic, and above all life-affirming, A Long Way From Home carries an air of bitterness and cynicism. It’s a potentially interesting variation on the theme, but one that ends up aggravating rather than intriguing.
Despite its evocative tone then, A Long Way From Home suffers fatally from a mundane and frankly exasperating plot. It has its moments, and individual aspects – the location, sound editing, and cinematography – work well, but ultimately it’s impossible to recommend this character drama in which every character is entirely irksome.