A boy who loses his mother to senseless violence in the urban chaos of Caracas travels alone to a mystical mountain to join the dying Spanish grandmother he never knew in “The Longest Distance,” writer-director Claudia Pinto Emperador’s accomplished debut. The crisscrossing journeys of a kid beginning to shape his life and a woman taking charge of her death form a strong symbolic template, successfully tempered by well-drawn characters, engaging performances and a convincingly rooted storyline. Engrossing pic could see theatrical and smallscreen play, especially in Hispanic markets.
Still struggling to come to terms with his mother’s brutal murder, 12-year-old Lucas (Omar Moya) secretly sets out on the voyage of reconciliation his that mother was about to embark upon: She had intended to return to her family’s long-vacant summer home in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana region to meet her own mother, from whom she had been estranged for years. During his travels, Lucas meets up with Kayemo (Alec Whaite), a young man with a money problem and a gun, who reluctantly agrees to accompany him to his destination.
Emperador intercuts Lucas’ long road trip with the preparations of his cancer-ridden grandmother, Martina (Carme Elias, calmly compelling), who has no idea of Lucas’ plans. Connecting up with old friends from her past who try to dissuade her, she is determined to climb Roraima, one of the oldest mountains on earth, to die where her husband disappeared many years ago.
The two odysseys intersect around unresolved issues of blame and regret. Just as Lucas’ mother once held Martina responsible for her father’s death, so Lucas believes his father partly to blame for his mother’s murder. Primal issues of guilt and forgiveness pass freely from one camp to the other. Even secondary characters share points of connection: Nasak (Marcos Moreno), the guide Marina tries to hire, turns out to be Kayemo’s father. Though the meeting of grandmother and grandson commands emotional centerstage, the characters pair off in freewheeling couplings to exchange views or explore mist-shrouded waterfalls, crystalline lakes and other wonders of this prehistoric terrain.
“The Longest Distance” sets up an extreme city/country dichotomy. The Caracas of the film’s opening scenes teems with negative forces even before the violence explodes. Once in the shadow of the mountains, however, clarity and serenity reign; oppositions are openly stated and peacefully resolved. Even Kayemo’s city-spawned debt, instead of leading to a gun-wielding confrontation, is meaningfully negotiated between father and son.
Production values underline this contrast expertly. Gabriel Guerra’s widescreen lensing captures the city’s traffic-snarled chaos and the countryside’s openness, while Elena Ruiz’s editing makes distinctions between urban action, strung together from disparate parts, and rural serenity, with its more homogeneous long takes.