by Richard von Busack
(All That Remains makes its North American premiere at Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, Mar 5 at 8:45, with screenings Mar 6 at 7:45, and Mar 9 at 4:30pm. All screenings at the Camera 12.)
This Swiss movie boasts excellent location photography by Valentin Rotelli on Umikongo on the coast of Japan and in Central California at Big Sur—two locations separated at birth. Not that All That Remains takes off from a completely novel idea. This twinning of landscapes was noted by Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac and other beats, who marveled at the Zen symmetry between the drama of sea and land on two continents.
But Swiss director Pierre-Adrian Irlé matches the two locations through stories that seem aimless, no matter how carefully they’re keyed into each other.
We alternate between the wanderings of two rootless young women who have attached themselves to men with vans. Outside of Lompoc, Sara (Olga Rosin), a troubled, angry (and endlessly talkative) wife picks up a ride. Her driver is Ben (Travis Shakespeare) who is on a mysterious errand. Sara is heading to the federal pen for a visit with her husband, who is serving ten years for live organ smuggling.
In Tokyo, Ellen (Isabelle Caillat) drags a roller suitcase through the streets until she reaches a quiet street; there she imposes herself on Nakata (Toshi Toda) a photographer who drives a vintage red Toyota van.
The film is padded with long Jarmuschian takes, accompanied by vintage blues music to make the comparison unignorable. The landscape photography is compelling for a time, particularly dramatic in the industrial horror of “Toyota City” at Nagoya. The incidental linkage between the two journeys—nights spent together, heads bumped on trunks of car, male rage at personal possessions being touched—is less like strong structuring than repetition for the slow viewers. It’s a case of two movies not equaling one. And it’s a dismal surprise how even post-modern filmmaking can be so prone to sentimental twaddle, as in the film’s low point, a Henry Miller-derived conversation about mermaids.
Eventually, All That Remains comes to a Buddhist-influenced twist ending. This works well, but the film is at its best when the coasts speak for themselves. When we see the stone palisades and hear the thunder of the water, All That Remains works on an emotional level: here is Godhead, here is the literal end of the world, here is eternity.