Ambitiously re-creating the journey from west Sub-Saharan Africa to Spain by three would-be immigrants, “14 Kilometers” is honest in its portrayal of physical and psychological stress and in its refusal to craft a well-rounded plot from real-life horrors. Ultimately, however, pic is a numbing litany of humiliations that only intermittently explores or communicates the tragedy beneath its suspiciously good looks. Presumably for its laudable intentions rather than its patchy execution, pic took the top film prize at Spain’s Valladolid fest in October, and further festival prospects look good in Europe.
Considering its specialist subject matter, film took an OK $60,000 off 30 prints locally in its first weekend in early December.
Violeta (Aminata Kanta), a teen who lives in a riverside village in Mali, has only an arranged marriage with a lascivious old man to look forward to, and decides to run off to a faraway place.Meanwhile, in neighboring Niger, mechanic Buba (Adoum Moussa) is a skilled soccer player; his brother, Mukela (Illiassou Mahamadou Alzouma), suggests he should try his skills in Europe, where “nobody dies of hunger.”
Violeta meets the two boys when they’re all loaded on a large truck, with many others, in central Niger. The route is across the pitiless expanse of the Tenere desert toward Morocco, via Algeria. Lensing exploits landscapes to the full, but the ravishing visuals seem at dramatic odds with the characters, for whom the view would be the last thing on their minds.
They’re dropped off in the desert a four-hour walk from Tamanrasset, in southern Algeria, but end up going round in circles. The horrors begin to mount.
Though pic has been dutifully researched and has a storng sense of place, too little time is spent on psychology, giving the film an anthropological rather than truly dramatic feel. Time devoted to the trio tramping hopelessly across the sand could have better been spent giving them some human depth.
When they come into contact with the men controlling their fates — as when Buba is preparing for the final 14-kilometer haul into Europe (at a cost of around $1,000) — the drama picks up. But the air of redemption in the final scene feels false.
Music, by Spain’s Santi Vega, is location-inspired and also includes a couple pieces by local artists such as Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour.