It was only recently that the trials and tribulations of an elderly, British couple attempting to reignite their marriage in France was explored, in Roger Michell’s Paris-set Le Week-end. Now director Virginia Gilbert’s presents her feature film debut A Long Way From Home, following similar themes yet doing so in the tranquil, pacifying setting of Nimes in the South of France. It’s these very surroundings which marks the key difference between the two movies, as this is without that sharp wit and anarchic ambiance, and instead is a more pensive, slow-burning take on this intriguing narrative.
Beginning much as it intends to carry on, A Long Way From Home is somewhat sparse in dialogue in the opening quarter of an hour, marking the sign of an assured, confident filmmaker. The couple in question are the retired Joseph (James Fox) and Brenda (Brenda Fricker), with the former evidently at a loss, seeking something new and exciting in his life. He soon finds that in the form of the young tourist Suzanne (Natalie Dormer), holidaying with her partner, and wine connoisseur, Mark (Paul Nicholls). Though unsure of quite where his feelings for Suzanne may lead, such an emotional dilemma leads him to question everything he thought he knew about his devotion to his wife.
In cinema often the portrayal of elderly couples who have been together for so long is that of an unbreakable bond and uncompromising camaraderie, yet this refreshingly portrays a man who has an inclination to explore, and one who isn’t settled and craves that something new. It’s not Suzanne as such who he desires, it’s that symbol of something different, someone younger and invigorating. There’s a real sadness to this tale though, and such a demoralising atmosphere is prevalent, as you never feel she wants the same thing he does. They both crave a comfort of sorts, but she looks up to him as a grandfatherly like figure, whereas he expects something a little more. However you always know it’s never going to happen quite as he envisages, and it’s upsetting to watch this man chasing such a lost cause and this sense of failure lingers over proceedings. That said, there is just this very slight, yet essential, element of hope that keeps both Joseph, and the audience, guessing.
Sadly the acting is a little wooden in this title, and you can see the script at times, as you can’t help but feel that the relaxing setting infiltrated their somewhat understated performances. Dormer is the stand out, adding some natural charm and affability to her demeanour, as you fully believe in why Joseph has grown so attached to her. The setting is captured brilliantly though, as within a mere matter of moments you can almost breathe in the Mediterranean air. It’s a very brightly lit aesthetic, as white stone makes up much of the backdrop, as the sun shines off it vivaciously.
Though admiring the approach taken, unfortunately for Gilbert, the audience’s attention can waiver, even if you do remain compelled as to how this narrative will conclude. It’s no doubt a unique and accomplished piece of filmmaking and though is certainly a lot to admire about this title, it’s just a little, well, you know, boring at times.