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East End Film Festival: La Distancia (The Distance) – Review

June 20, 2014

FestivalsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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It’s not often you get a heist film featuring telepathic dwarves and a Japanese-speaking, haiku-writing smoking bucket, but La Distancia (The Distance) is far from the ordinary crime film and more an absurdist journey. Sergio Caballero’s second feature, a, sci-fi comedy crime film, confirms Cabellero’s place amongst the jokers of the contemporary wave of European art-cinema, someone not afraid to bend some film-making rules and have fun along the way. La Distancia will find itself a comfortable home with festival-goers and film cult-lovers alike.

The film opens immediately with the suspension of disbelief and a flex of the imagination. Narrating over an ambulance being driven across empty roads and gorgeous terrain, you find out that a post-Soviet oligarch, who came into fortune with a Siberian power station, was a big fan of the arts so he not only bought a conceptual artist’s performance, but the artist himself. Unfortunately, after the untimely patron’s death, the artist remains locked in the warehouse beside the deserted power station for the following four years – and this is just what is explained in the first minute of the feature.

What unfolds over the next eighty is an experimental heist film in which a trio of telepathic dwarves are tasked by the artist, a Joseph Beuy type character, to steal ‘The Distance’, a mystery held up inside the main core of the power station, guarded each day by a security officer, who he himself acquires the back-story of radiation experiments gone wrong and the power to slip in and out of dimensions. The artist is covered in a brown clay, resembling a sort of mutant who also sometimes talks to dead rabbits; the dwarves are an odd-bunch, with the squeaky voiced one, the one with the brains, and the one with oddly-sexual supernatural powers, who we follow for seven days planning out their robbery. And don’t forget about the romance between the guard’s chimney and the haiku-writing metal bucket.

The film takes full advantage of the surreal landscape of Siberia, with bleak but breathtaking shots and frequent nods to Tarkovsky’s spectacular sci-fi classic Stalker recounted through the desolate scenes and the fantastic work of cinematographer, Marc Gomez del Moral. There’s also plenty of surreal twists and turns that may be found along the path of a Lynchean film, from the bizarre sexual scenes mentioning astrology and slices of ham referencing celebrity artists all blended together into a whimsical stretch of the imagination. There are laughs founded on baffling confusion and there are ones wrapped up in the deadpan exercise of each scene in the absurd. It is difficult to provide a synopsis to this feature – all of the ones previously seen merely mention it as a surrealist crime film, but it soon becomes clear that the heist really isn’t the point of the film, but actually the second, or third layer of it.

There is also the brilliant soundtrack, which takes all of the spoonfuls of the unusual and serves to only further compliment and layer the grand landscapes on view. This is where Sergio Caballero’s past as co-founder and visual director of Barcelona’s progressive music festival, SONAR, really shows up.

This might sound all a bit too strange, and too peculiar for most audiences, and it is true: instead of going down the path of conventional or commercial this film veers into the woods nearby and comes up with a jigsaw of idiosyncrasy. This rewarding film is the result of blank cheque given to Sergio Cabalerro, a fiercely uncompromised vision that in the end is the best joke of them all, the film itself is just one, eighty-minute long protracted joke, and it’s worth staying to get the punchline.

La Distancia (The Distance) screens at the East End Film Festival today.

Oliver Smith