In two hours, Braden King’s awkwardly avant-garde and snail-paced road movie “Here” arrives at a place few will care to visit. Charting the familiarly bumpy romance between an American satellite-mapping engineer (Ben Foster) and a free-spirited photographer named Gadarine (Lubna Azabal), this first U.S. feature shot in Armenia makes intermittently vivid use of the country’s gorgeous landscapes while straining pretentiously to articulate lofty themes of something or other. Experimental film interludes that pilfer Stan Brakhage’s oeuvre exacerbate the narrative inertia and increase the pomposity quotient of an indie that could’ve made more with less.
Co-writer/director King does succeed in drawing naturalistic performances from the attractive pair of Foster and Azabal, whose characters meet cute one morning in an Ashtarak hotel. Back in her native Armenia after a long sojourn, beautiful Gadarine helps Foster’s English-speaking Will Shepard order an omelet. Later she mentions that she’d love to take pictures in the town to which the bespectacled science geek will be driving for his work in verifying the geographic accuracy of satellite images.
Thus begins a spontaneous cross-country road trip that makes stops at the home of Gadarine’s conservative parents (Sophik Sarkisyan, Yuri Kostanyan); at the apartment of her married friends Soffiya (Christina Hovaguimyan) and vodka-swilling Jirair (Hovak Galoyan); and at a freshwater pool where the budding young lovers strip to their undies and get better acquainted, if none too indelibly. As Gadarine and Will proceed down the road toward disputed territory (and their own petty arguments), King takes detours, too, in the form of non-narrative segments (directed by a half-dozen other filmmakers) whose visual flash is accompanied by Will’s cringe-inducingly poetic voiceovers.
“Here” has its origins in a multimedia piece King and colleagues presented at Sundance in 2008, and one senses that it would’ve worked better in that form, as the film’s seemingly random mix of story and stylistic flourishes benefits neither element appreciably. (Another multimedia presentation of King’s — “Here (The Story Sleeps),” which includes images from the film projected on three screens — appears at the festival this year.)
Taken separately, Foster’s and Azabal’s performances — introverted and extroverted, respectively — are strong enough to sustain the viewer’s interest. But together, the actors generate insufficient heat, and King’s oddly prudish choice to cut away from the characters’ first full sexual coupling, in the backseat of the car, hardly helps.
The primary virtues of “Here” lie in the lush widescreen lensing of Lol Crawley (“Ballast”) and in the immersive multichannel sound design of Kent Sparling. Other tech credits are merely solid.