LA Film Festival Review: Everything Beautiful Is Far Away is a Beautifully and Ambitious Tale.
Everything Beautiful Is Far Away marks the feature-length directorial debut of Pete Ohs and Andrea Sisson. The film follows Lernert (Joseph Cross), a lonely inventor and writer searching for parts to build a new body for his talking robot companion Susan (Jillian Mayer). He meets Rola (Julia Garner), a young but determined dreamer searching for a mystical body of water known as Crystal Lake. Lernert inspired by Rola’s determination decides to join her on the journey.
You have to admire independent filmmakers that don’t have a big budget but do what they can to bring their big ideas to life. Everything Beautiful is Far Away is an ambitious film that was made with very little. The film takes place in two locations, with about 80% of it, taking place in a desert. The story has a total of four characters, of which one is a talking robot head. As you can see, this is a very simple film but one that hopes to say a lot with very little.
The cinematic experience that Ohs and Sisson were able to create with such little resources is quite a remarkable feat. There is no year or location mentioned at any point in the film. You have no idea where Rola and Lernert are or what happened in the first place that would inspire them to be walking through this barren landscape. All we know is that there is a desert, a city, and supposedly, a lake. We learn things about the leads as the story progresses but nothing of their origins. There are some underlying themes throughout the story that help give the viewer some food for thought. This is the type of film that is likely to scare away the casual moviegoer, but hardcore arthouse fans will appreciate the passion that Ohs and Sisson have for this project.
Everything Beautiful is Far Away is a simple yet poignant indie about two lost souls searching for meaning. Lernert is a complex character but one that isn’t always the easiest to see eye to eye with. He is flawed and somewhat overbearing. On the other hand, Lernert is quirky and smart. He is a planner with a survival instinct that is uncertain of what is missing from his existance. This is what makes the pairing of him and Rola work so incredibly well. Lernert and Rola are nothing alike. Rola is charming and determined. She has a childlike sense of innocence which as a result makes her rather naive. Rola desperately seeks a life beyond the city. One that will allow her to see and experience a new way of life. Unfortunately, she lacks survival skills but is still willing to take the risk in order to get what she wants.
In one scene, Lernert and Rola are searching for food. They find some unknown vegetable but Lernert is afraid to eat it as it could be poisonous. Lenert tells Rola that she shouldn’t risk it but she knows they need to eat in order to survive. She takes a bite of the unknown vegetable without fearing the consequences. The scene perfectly captures why these two need each other and why they work so well as a team. They work to offset their own fears while being the key to each others survival.
The character of Susan used to be an actual robot but she is now just a robotic head. Susan serves as the film’s narrator as well as a secondary character. Susan is hoping that Lernert is going to build her a new body so that she can once again walk by his side. Susan is programmed by Lernert so she tends to say things that he wants to hear. She is reminiscent of a mother and one that is constantly nagging their child to take care of themselves. Susan is an interesting concept but I can’t help but wish there was a little more depth behind the character besides the obvious.
Everything Beautiful is Far Away absolutely stunning to look at. The cinematography by Christian Sorensen Hansen and Pete Ohs looks and feel as if you are watching a film with a million dollar budget. These two cinematographers embrace the limited locations and make the viewer feel the same isolation that the characters are feeling. There are so many shots that you can probably freeze frame and hang them on the wall to display them as a work of art. It is no surprise that Ohs and Hansen took home the LA Film Festival’s U.S. Fiction Cinematography Award.
While I did like the film, I do have to point out some problem I had with it. The first is that the story isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Now, this might be because of the budget or the limitations that the cast and crew had to shoot but the film just wasn’t nearly as impactful as I was hoping for. My other major complaint is the runtime. At only 88-minutes long, the film felt incredibly long and was very poorly paced. I could help but feel as though this would have made for a better 30 to 45-minute short film rather than an 88-minute feature. I tried incredibly hard to stay invested but the middle way point, I found myself checking out because there is really nothing for me to latch onto or connect with.
Clearly, this is a very personal story to screenwriter Pete Ohs. You can tell that this film is him trying to creatively express himself and for the most part, he succeeds. After having seen him in person and listening to him speak during the Q&A, it is very clear that he is Lernert. The character embodies a lot of Ohs own fears and shortcomings. Lernert might be a bit too much to handle at times but I think that is the way that Ohs views himself. Because the story is so personal, it will be hard for the film to find an audience. It is extreme arthouse and unfortunately, that kind of audience isn’t the easiest to find.
Still, I applaud Pete Ohs and Andrea Sisson for bringing this story to life and was impressed by what they were able to achieve with so little. Everything Beautiful is Far Away is a beautiful and ambitious indie film that will bode well on the festival circuit before ultimately finding a home on some streaming network like Netflix or Hulu. It isn’t a bad film but rather one for a very specific and smaller audience. I appreciate the themes and style of the film. I would be very curious to see what Ohs and Sisson could to do with a less personal script and a bigger budget. I think they have a lot to offer and will be sure to keep an eye out for what they tackle next.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for Everything Beautiful is Far Away is a 7 out of 10.