Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World
With its feet on the ground and head in the clouds, Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World follows German filmmakers and partners Patrick Allgaier and Gwendolin Weisser on a three and a half year trip from their home in Germany, across eastern Europe, into the Middle East, all around Asia, and across the Pacific to Central America and back home across the Atlantic. As a travelogue, Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World is admirably comprehensive and occasionally eye opening, but thanks to a decided lack of overall personality, the film’s good intentions amount to little more than an overlong session of watching someone else’s home movies.
A surprise box office hit in Germany upon its theatrical release last year, Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World (and yes, that unfortunate period is part of the title) depicts a romantic notion that few people would be willing to undertake. Patrick and Gwendolin represent a sort of young, European restlessness and desire to travel, but also a fair amount of old school hippy ethics. Their only means of transportation are by foot, hitchhiking, bus train, or boat; no planes and nothing that will cost them a lot of money. It’s not an easy life, and Allgaier and Weisser certainly don’t glamourize their setbacks and weariness, but the memories made along the way are all once in a lifetime opportunities that they’ll never experience again. Most viewers will never get a chance to see these places for themselves, which lends the film a natural and healthy degree of curiosity.
They have an unexpectedly great time in Georgia (the country, not the state), celebrate Patrick’s thirtieth birthday while camping amid snow capped mountains, experience Christmas in Guadalajara, are taken aback by the kindness and hospitality they’re shown in both Iran and Pakistan, and the only major letdown on their trip was their time spent in India. A bit of drama enters the equation when Gwendolin discovers that she’s pregnant during the second year of their voyage. Despite the news, they both agree to continue travelling because it would be even more work to turn back and give up.
Most of Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World takes place in the Middle East and Asia, and the reasons for that are twofold. First, it’s the part of their trip that took the most time to traverse for geographical and political reasons. Second, in addition to experiencing far flung locations for their own edification, Allgaier and Weisser also want to correct common misconceptions and myths about the places they visit and the people they meet along the way. Not everything about Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World is rose coloured, but there’s a natural warmth whenever the travellers stop to talk with people and get a feel for various local cultures. Patrick and Gwendolin aren’t the type of travellers who want to visit the tourist attractions and hot spots. They want to get a feel for everyday life and culture, and that’s what taking such a journey should be about. Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World isn’t a flashy film, and it’s all the better and more humane for it.
Unfortunately, Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World is also rather tedious to sit through in a single viewing, and it might’ve worked more effectively as a webseries. By the fifth or sixth time Patrick and Gwendolin fret about going days without getting a ride or they run into car troubles and visa problems, the viewer has more than gotten enough of a picture to see just how difficult their trip has become. Unless they’re sitting down with someone new, the film becomes repetitive and stagnant.
They also rarely share any information about their own lives, their relationship, or even many of their true feelings with the viewer. Even when they’re about to have their child in Mexico (which is almost three-quarters of the way into the film), we still know very little about what keeps them together and where their resolve comes from. The trip is spectacular and a massive undertaking, but there’s no tap dancing around the fact that Patrick and Gwendolin are bland people to watch over the course of nearly 130 minutes.
That off kilter balance between wonderment and passively watching people we know almost nothing about moving from place to place leads to Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World feeling like more of a drag than it probably should. There are plenty of moments of joy and education along this journey, but they’re peppered throughout a film that’s far too enamoured with the scope of the project at hand.
Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World opens at The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, April 12, 2019.
Check out the trailer for Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World: