“Long Distance Love,” Swedish filmmakers Magnus Gertten and Elin Jonsson’s irresistible docu about an engaging young Kyrgyzstan couple, has the precision and unity of fiction, using a character-driven narrative to paint on a larger cultural canvas a picture of the fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who exile themselves to foreign lands to support their families back home. Pic maintains a dual focus on 18-year-old Alisher, adrift in Moscow, and his wife, mother and father mired in financial woes back in Osh. Winner of the Hamptons documentary prize, this iconic Robert Flaherty-type docu definitely warrants arthouse exposure.
Alisher and Dildora meet, marry and move in to Alisher’s parents’ house, their affection for each other obvious. But finding work is impossible, and Alisher has no recourse but to join the million-odd Kyrgyz forced to migrate to Russia through organizations of dubious legality. Pregnant Dildora wants him to stay; Alisher promises to send money and hopes to return before the birth of the baby.
Once in Moscow, however, Alisher is cooped up in an overcrowded apartment at first without employment for weeks on end, then dispatched on various far-flung construction jobs. The teen soon follows a familiar path, losing sight of his objectives and drowning his loneliness by spending his money in discotheques and bars instead of sending it home.
Meanwhile, back in Osh, conditions have deteriorated precipitously. Alisher’s mother — who has long supported the family with an exhausting restaurant job while her abusive, unemployed husband has gone off drinking — has now seen one of her husband’s cronies’ shady deals costs the family their house. When Alisher finally returns from Russia, he discovers his wife and son on the brink of homelessness.
In their three-plus years of filming, helmers Gertten and Jonsson manage to achieve a sense of total transparency: Events unfold with amazing naturalness and emotional immediacy. Moreover, the particulars of Alisher’s adventures — from the cold impersonality of Moscow’s bureaucracy to the rough kindnesses of farm owners to the skinhead violence of displaced Russian workers — along with the touching openness of the couple’s mutual adoration, gives resonance to a pattern of exile that increasingly prevails throughout the Third World.
Tech credits are exemplary.