Writer-Director Li Lu’s first feature is a beautiful but enigmatic and melancholy romantic drama that offers up a frustrating to watch, but occasionally compelling character study of a lost, lonely and depressed young woman searching for something more in life.
Drawing inspiration from Wim Wender’s acclaimed film “Paris, Texas,” Lu’s travelogue presents us with Sylvia (Agnes Bruckner), a young artist inflicted with urban ennui. She suffers through a listless life of despair and doesn’t appear to have any particular ambitions.
Returning to her Texas hometown for her best friend’s wedding, Sylvia soon ditches a pre-wedding party after meeting Esteban (Maurice Compte), a mysterious brooding stranger who dares her to join him on a road trip through the Deep South.
This sets up an existential exploration of Sylvia and Esteban’s seemingly boring lives framed against gorgeously lensed, sun-soaked southern landscapes (captured by Cinematographer Igor Kropotov) as they travel through New Orleans and Nashville on their maudlin road trip to nowhere.
Along the way, Sylvia and Esteban engage in some requisite motel room love scenes and prance around during playful outdoor montage sequences while taking in the sights and sounds they encounter on the road.
Suffice to say, the film comes across like an overextended Banana Republic or Gap clothing commercial with its attractive young cast posturing as they smoke cigarettes, dance, play guitars, hang out in cool atmospheric neon-lit bars, eat at hip picturesque roadside diners and drive around in a vintage car.
The film does portend to have a deeper artistic message of striking out on one’s own to create something different. At one point, Esteban (who turns out to be a writer) quotes a line from Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Faulker’s The Sound and The Fury.
“Wonder. Go on and wonder,” Esteban tells Sylvia.
At the film’s premiere screening during the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, several audience members walked out in the middle of the film, perhaps because the lackluster characters were devoid of heart for much of its extremely slow moving first and second act filled with stock American archetypal characters.
In fact, Lu readily admits she wanted to present these unlikeable characters as they are; no matter how challenging the viewing experience maybe for audiences.
Thus, the cryptic Sylvia spends plenty of time languishing in artfully crafted bedroom sequences with beautiful shafts of light piercing through window sills. However, showcasing such depressing and often unlikeable character’s on screen in an engaging storyline is a challenging endeavor no matter how artsy the film’s aesthetic.
Although not as derisive as noted auteur Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder,” which had audiences booing and walking out at the Venice Film Festival a few years ago, Lu’s “There Is A New World Somewhere” does belong to that same quiet and contemplative, non-traditional narrative storytelling genre favored by directors such as Sofia Coppola, who crafted the similarly enigmatic “Somewhere,” about a passionless Hollywood actor living at the Chateau Marmot who reexamines his life when his eleven-year-old daughter surprises him with a visit.
Reflecting on Lu’s film, one might even raise the question as to why she chose not to explore more racial and cultural differences between Sylvia and Esteban, not to mention the myriad of potentially more interesting conflicts created by having written one or both characters as Asian or Black or Mixed-ethnicity?
In such a case, the dynamics of the story might have been heightened especially in lieu of recent civil unrest in the American South from conflicts between white police and black civilians in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri.
But that would’ve have been a totally different, possibly fresher and more intriguing story that might have risen above this film’s vanilla plot line and psuedo-existentialist ennui to depict something akin to Mira Nair’s award-winning film “Mississippi Masala” about a young Indian woman who relocates to Mississippi and falls in love with a black man, forcing their respective families to have to come to terms with the relationship.
For those wanting to check out “There Is A New World Somewhere,” an encore screening will take place at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on Wednesday, April 29 at 4:30 PM in the CGV Cinemas 2 located in Koreatown.
Ticket information: http://laapff.festpro.com/films/detail/there_is_a_new_world_somewhere_2015