Beautifully structured and ultimately transcendent, “I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You” is a road movie in its purest form, offering an affecting record of processing loss and coming through to the other side. Co-helmers Marcelo Gomes and Karim Ainouz work seamlessly together in the bleak Brazilian Northeast, creating a fictional travelogue for a character heard but never seen thanks to a creative combination of p.o.v. lensing and snapshots. Utterly unpretentious and deeply touching, this is perfect fest fare that could hit arthouse screens, provided critical support is strong.
If the title sounds long-winded and possibly even corny, auds will justifiably rally to its defense after viewing the film. It’s shot from the perspective of geologist Jose Renato (Irandhir Santos), who’s on a work trip through the semi-arid Sertao region, analyzing tectonics for a canal project that will cut through the area and displace thousands of inhabitants. Speaking out loud as he drives through the dry, barren landscape, he names geological formations and occasionally slips into more personal territory.
Gradually, as he speaks to the air in a one-sided conversation with the wife he misses, it becomes clear that she’s just left him. The professional aspect of the trip turns increasingly onerous as Jose Renato’s thoughts are crowded with a raw sense of loss and mounting desperation. Unable to bear the loneliness of the empty terrain, he ventures to a town, hooking up with some prostitutes as he progresses through various stages of loss, eventually coming to a calmer place.
Those expecting something similar to Ainouz’s “Suely in the Sky” or “Madame Sata” will be very surprised by the new pic’s form and content, though the road theme does have parallels with Gomes’ “Cinema, Aspirin and Vultures.” Here, the process of grief and its visual accompaniment in the wide open landscape smoothly develop from stark loneliness to a gradual connection with people, becoming genuinely cathartic as the protag discovers that his metaphorical tunnel really does have a light at the end.
When Jose Renato first starts meeting prostitutes, they’re seen generally in fixed-camera portraits, but then he trains his lens on Patricia, who speaks of her dream of a “leisure life.” By including this one scene, the helmers remind the viewer that Patricia, and all the others glimpsed in stasis, are not mere objects to be glimpsed and forgotten but real people. While the main character is never seen, the film movingly achieves its goal of being both a view through his eyes and a conduit into his mind.
The mix of formats, including Super 8 and DV, give the film the feel of a personal travelogue, which of course it is, but no homemovie has ever been so expertly edited. At times, it’s as if the helmers have put together a scrapbook of the mind, with images and thoughts moving on a similar track, all accompanied by a selection of music whose style and lyrics are completely in sync with the emotional arc.