HOW MUCH FARTHER (Tania Hermida, 2006)

An elusive suggestion of Candide hangs about Qué tan lejos, a coincidence-driven film from Ecuador that dramatizes the evolving bond between two bus passengers who for different reasons want to get to Cuenca quickly. The name of one of these women is Esperanza, Hope, and the other, a cynic, identifies herself in response to this as Tristeza, Sadness; if indeed Voltaire’s eighteenth-century novella is an influence, its descent from optimism has been fortuitously overturned. Esperanza and Tristeza must leave their bus, which a labor strike has temporarily blocked from continuing. The pair tries hitchhiking to Cuenca.
     The principal fault of this first feature by Tania Hermida, who also wrote the picaresque screenplay, is that the two main characters are mere sketches, types. It is always a pleasure to watch a relationship form in a film rather than having it posited as a pre-existent thing; but such pleasure is considerably lightened when, in a naturalistic film (and that is what we have here—not a cutting satire, like Voltaire’s), the characters lack realistic depth.
     Hermida has better luck, though, convincing us that Jesús is real. Jesús is transporting his grandmother’s ashes to a funeral service in Cuenca. (Incidentally, Tristeza is trying to get to a wedding in Cuenca, which she aims to stop because she is convinced that the groom loves her, not the pregnant girl he is marrying.) For a while, the pair becomes a trio.
     Indeed, one of the film’s two finest accomplishments is its sense of the fragile and changing nature of life—here, temporarily—on the road. People come and go, like light. Even Esperanza and Tristeza part along the way, only (happily) to reunite somewhere down the road.
     Another asset is the subdued, misty, haunting color cinematography by Armando Salazar.

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