Wednesday Editor’s Pick: I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You (2009)

by on March 22, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Wed March 27 at 7:30 at Exit Art [Program & Tix]

The bar opens at 7:00. This winner of Best Director and Best Cinematography at the Rio International Film Festival is co-presented by Cinema Tropical.

Mark Holcomb for The Village Voice:

Road movies don’t get any purer than I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You, a visual reverie that is Bressonian in its austerity and transcendence, only with truck-stop hookers. Narrated by José, an unseen geologist (Irandhir Santos) who is on a 30-day assignment in the Brazilian backcountry to scout a possible canal route, the film consists of a succession of subjective shots of the passing landscape and seemingly endless highway. This initially patience-taxing monotony slyly builds into a portrait of José’s bitter heartsickness over a recent breakup, as well as a meditation on the destructive potential of movement for movement’s sake. The fleeting scenes of serenity and intimacy captured along the road thus not only taunt José, they hint at what stands to be lost by the canal’s construction. This is no socio-ecological harangue, though: From José’s absurdist litany of geological data to his cynical, dissolute indulgence with said working girls to his ultimate (possibly deluded) acceptance of forward propulsion as the essence of life, his journey forms a moving existential arc. Like the best trips, I Travel goes places that couldn’t have been anticipated.


Ignatiy Vishnevetsky for the Chicago Reader:

A road movie in the literal sense, this 2009 drama was shot partly through the windshield of a moving car. The unseen cameraman is a geologist driving across an arid region of Brazil, and his terse narration—part travelogue, part love letter—imbues the bleak landscape with a feeling of romantic longing. English director Patrick Keiller has explored similar cinematic territory with his pseudo-documentary films Robinson in Space (1997) and Robinson in Ruins (2010), but Karim Ainouz (Madame Sata) and Marcelo Gomes, who codirected this feature, favor a less essayistic approach. Their use of multiple formats—including digital video, Super 8, and 35-millimeter slides—gives the movie the texture of a worn scrapbook.

Allison Willmore for Time Out New York:

Oddly enough, we never actually see the narrator-protagonist (voiced by Santos), even though I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You is an intimate tracing of both his monthlong trip and personal anguish. Instead, directors Karim Ainouz and Marcelo Gomes manage a Herzogian repurposing of decades-old documentary footage mixed with newer material, all narratively bound together by the actor’s wry, dejected voice-overs on life, love and rock strata. It’s a dizzying, dazzling DIY travelogue whose age is nearly impossible to pinpoint, thanks to its aesthetic hodgepodge of Super-8 and digital-video clips interspersed with stills; it literally and figuratively goes from sharp-focused to blurry and faded, and back again. But the movie’s true brilliance comes from its portrayal of how the world curls around you in the grip of heartache—every song on the radio, every face you see, every story you’re told reflecting only what you’ve lost.


Jeannette Catsoulis for The New York Times:

Coming in at a tight 75 minutes, this strikingly original travelogue glides on the lovely lilt of Mr. Santos’s Portuguese narration. Listing the contents of a backpack (magnet, chloric acid, machete) or yearning for the absent beloved, his voice caresses the film’s portraits of soon-to-be-evacuees — a woman snipping rose petals from pink Styrofoam; two brothers stuffing straw mattresses, oaken faces buffed with sweat — like melancholy music. The sway of young prostitutes and a couple dancing in a nightclub, a tiny baby nestled between them, keeps time.
To achieve the film’s unusual tones and textures, the director of photography, Heloisa Passos, used a variety of formats, assembling a visual record of poverty and labor that’s at once barbed and narcotic. As the region’s parched terrain drifts past the car’s dust-smeared windshield, the candid longing of a pretty call girl for “a leisure life” could not possibly seem more fruitless or more rueful.


Director Ainouz at the Anthology premiere:

Eric Kohn for Indiewire:

There’s something primal about the moving-image travelogue. One of the original genres of moviemaking, it made a comeback in the home-video footage now considered a hallmark of documentaries’ montage sequences. “I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You” personalizes the charm of observational B-roll through experimental narrative. A delicate Brazilian assemblage that follows a lonely geologist as he wanders through the barren terrain of northeastern Brazil, it takes the shape of an intimate diary reminiscent of work by Chris Marker or Jonas Mekas.
The visual collage retains a consistent melancholy, resulting in an experience that’s both deeply affecting and — since José never actually appears on-camera — utterly detached. The movie could be viewed sans sound and still convey the same underlying mood. “The repetition,” Renato says of the places he goes, “just underscores the monotony of the landscape.” He’s exactly right, but his plight shows how even monotony has its magnificence.
A plot summary can’t fully relate the hypnotic effect of watching the world through Renato’s eyes, but the sheer beauty of the things counteracts his neurotic outlook. “I Travel” concludes as a paean to the eternal comfort that nature provides. At one point Renato whines, “The truth is, it’s me I can’t stand,” but thanks to the fantastic images that surround his evocative ruminations, they never overstay their welcome.


Eric Monder for Film Journal International:

What is most remarkable about the film is how it creates a fully rounded character without our ever seeing him. Historically, the subjective camera has not always allowed viewers to empathize with or “become” characters the way one might have expected (witness the infamous Lady in the Lake experiment), but somehow it works this time and the results are a deeply moving film created almost entirely out of a basic POV strategy. (Sometimes still photos replace the motion pictures, but the subjective effect is sustained nonetheless.)
It doesn’t hurt, either, that what José and “we” see are a series of haunting landscapes and faces. Even the geological rocks mesmerize us, in the manner of abstract paintings. Merely using digital video, cinematographer Heloisa Passos does an amazing job of turning a travelogue into an impressionistic piece about a very real problem in rural regions everywhere. For that alone, the film is worth finding.
But there are other reasons to catch this tale of personal existential crisis clashing with ostensible industrial progress. The ending is a bit of dare—a literal leap of faith on the filmmakers’ part—but in every other way, I Travel Because I Have to is a fully realized, completely organic work.


Fernando F. Croce for Slant:

The title comes from a poster glimpsed during one of the many roadside stops made by unseen protagonist Renato (voiced by Irandhir Santos), a geologist assigned to research the sun-cracked sertão scrubland for a water canal project that will slice through the area. Improvising his own travelogue with a camera mounted for the most part on his car window, Renato records the measurements and fractures of the Earth, but also the faces of the people living on it, among them wizened figures about to be evacuated from spectral villages, rough yet plaintive prostitutes, circus troupers, and religious pilgrims venturing into the desert. Most of all, however, the camera records his displaced melancholy as his voiceover slides from scientific dictation to personal rumination and the vast, empty spaces come to reflect a deeply despondent psyche.
Taking more than a page from Wim Wenders, Chantal Akerman, and Jia Zhangke, Aïnouz and Gomes blend documentary with fiction to forge a tactile, strikingly woozy first-person perspective. Their amalgam of bleeding, flaring film formats (including Super 8 stock, digital video, and grainy still pics) leaves them open to accusations of placing pictorial aestheticizing before social drama, yet it also yields countless visual felicities, ranging from meticulously composed images of headlights materializing and vanishing in the dusky horizon to wobbly shots of 19th-century architecture that suggest science-fiction settings.
Indeed, despite its share of over-explanatory lines (“The truth is that it’s me who I can’t stand”), the protagonist’s narration continually brings to mind the musings of a not-entirely-sane space traveler exploring a strange planet. Late in the film, Renato alternately compares the outcome of his journey to having survived a disaster and to having ingested a mind-stirring tranquilizer. Which of the two sums up the experience of I Travel Because I Have To depends on one’s acceptance of its languid, video installation-style impressionism, though either way its portrait of emotional crisis projected through a dusty windshield isn’t easily forgotten.


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