Review: The Long Walk
by Vittoria Scarpa
- VENICE 2019: Mattie Do’s new film is an intricate ghost story about a man who looks to change his own past and suffers the unexpected consequences of this decision
There’s a constant toing and froing between the past and the present in The Long Walk [+see also:
interview: Mattie Do
film profile], the latest film by the Laotian-born and Los Angeles-raised director Mattie Do. Presented in competition at the 16th Giornate degli Autori of the Venice International Film Festival before flying on to the Toronto Film Festival, it’s an intricate ghost story about an old man and his regrets; a sorcerer of sorts who can communicate with the dead and who discovers he can also travel back in time by fifty years and change his own destiny – or, more specifically, one particular episode from his past – but who then suffers the unexpected consequences of this act: namely, it changes the entire course of his life.
The film is set in a rural village near the Laotian capital, in an unspecified near future, though despite the somewhat backwards setting, we see the protagonist, “the old man” (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, who also featured in the director’s previous film, Dearest Sister), making purchases using an invisible microchip implanted in his arm. A woman has disappeared and the police, who are aware of the old man’s abilities, turn to him in an attempt to find out where the woman might be. Lina (Vilouna Phetmany), the daughter of the missing woman, also joins in the search, travelling from the capital for this very reason and staying as a guest in the old man’s house. Meanwhile, a small boy (Por Silatsa) discovers a young woman dying behind a bush along a dusty road which leads to the village, but she has nothing to do with the missing woman described above. Little by little, we realise that what we’re seeing is an alternation of two different time-periods, and that this small boy is none other than the protagonist himself, fifty years earlier.
The spirit of the young woman found behind the bushes (played by Noutnapha Soydara, who doesn’t utter a single word for the entire duration of the film) is the link between the past and the present: having never received a proper burial in her time, this soul has never been able to go in peace, “to transform itself”. Through this woman, the old man comes into contact with himself as a child and, in the presence of his beloved, seriously ill mother (Chansamone Inoudom), he teaches the little boy that some people don’t deserve to suffer and shows him another way. In so doing, his life too will take a different direction.
The film ricochets from one era to the other, the two frequently intersecting, and is rich in suggestion, in apparitions. But it’s also swimming in things left unsaid, and a few passages are, frankly, indecipherable. A leaner construction, less overloaded with details and links needing to be made between one thing or another in almost every scene – links which, frustratingly, we often fail to make – might have been more effective. Though not lacking in charm (namely its reflection on the dead and how to let people go, and the long road that is travelled by souls who don’t know when their lives will truly be over...), the film sadly feels too much like a riddle which is a bit too tiresome to solve.
The Long Walk is produced by Lao Art Media (Laos) alongside Aurora Media (Singapore) and Spanish firm Screen Division. International sales are in the hands of 108 Media.
(Translated from Italian)
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