Poetic travelogue “Carriere: 250 Meters” is as much a meditation on the concept of place as it is a voyage through the life and influences of Gallic novelist, playwright and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. Mexican helmer Juan Carlos Rulfo (“In the Pit”) takes the scribe from his place of birth in a picturesque French mountain village to Paris; New York; and far-flung locales including India; Mexico; and Toledo, Spain, which Carriere visited often with Luis Bunuel, for whom he wrote “Belle de jour,” among others. Modestly conceived pic should go the distance at cinephile and docu fests.
The film, penned by Carriere himself, is not a straightforward biography but rather, in keeping with the author’s m.o., a sideways exploration of some of the writer’s recurring themes, explored through the prism of important places in Carriere’s life.
Guiding principle is a quote from writer San Juan de la Cruz that Rulfo has offhandedly edited into the film about halfway in: “You travel not to see, but to not see.” The French scribe, shown oncamera and also heard in poetic reflections in v.o., explains that this means traveling is about finding yourself and your own memories, not about losing yourself in the beautiful images the world has to offer (though the pic has some of those, too, courtesy of the helmer’s solid lensing).
The title refers to an early sequence in which Carriere visits the cemetery in his village of birth with his 6-year-old daughter, Kiara. He was born about 250 meters away from where he wants to be buried, so Carriere describes that short distance as his “life path.”
Ironically, however, the writer has traveled extensively. Filmmaker Pierre Etaix initiated him into the pleasures of cinema in the French capital, and for more than 35 years Carriere has been working there with theater director Peter Brook. In the late 1960s, he was in New York, which he now revisits with Czech helmer Milos Forman (for whom he wrote “Vatel” and “Goya’s Ghosts”) and photog Mary Ellen Mark, both of whom he was involved with in a menage a trois at the time.
Throughout, Carriere switches among French, English and Spanish. Mexico and Spain, so important for his collaborations with Bunuel (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “That Obscure Object of Desire”), are also visited, though somewhat surprisingly for what is technically a Mexican production, Rulfo spends more time in Spain. In Toledo, which he visited annually with Bunuel for 20 years, Carriere remembers the stories the director told about his time there with fellow surrealists Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali.
The writer also travels to India, the inspiration for his and Brook’s 11-years-in-the-making stage and film adaptation of the Mahabharata. Carriere calls the mythological epic the only key he had to unlock the gigantic, enormously diverse nation, and perhaps “India’s invisible cement.” It is in this late segment that the film’s ideas on the fluid concepts of place and nationhood, and the role stories can play in defining them, properly come into focus.
End credits finish on a typically cheeky note, with the mention that all the characters and situations are real and any similarity to fiction is merely coincidental.