Laotian film The Long Walk from director Mattie Do offers a strange philosophical tale of time travel and guilt in a rural setting. It also reminds us that just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.
From the very opening scenes of Mattie Do’s Laotian ghostly time-travel feature The Long Walk, viewers are aware that although they may be watching something which looks like contemporary rural Laos, the exact timeframe is definitely more fluid. At the end of the country road, in the distance but still tantalisingly close, is an unexpected city of shiny high-rise buildings. As the Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) raises his hand to shield his eyes from the searing sun above, futuristic jets whizz past which do not seem to fit the scene. And yet the man is not startled, so we know it is nothing strange for him.
It’s an unusual introduction, but one which establishes from the start that expectations of pastoral Asian cinema should be parked at the door, and the audience should just follow where Mattie Do leads. If you are up for that, then the film will intrigue and please in equal measure.
The story is difficult to describe without giving too much away, but the main characters are an old man, a young boy (Por Silatsa), and a young woman (Noutnapha Soydara). The Old Man (we do not learn his name) lives alone, scraping just enough credits to buy food by scavenging for scrap metal and selling it to a dealer. Occasionally he is accompanied, or followed by, the young woman – a silent character who nevertheless appears to be able to communicate with him. She also has a link to the young boy, seemingly appearing to him at crucial emotional moments for him. To say more would spoil the narrative revelations, but it soon becomes clear that there is some kind of fluidity to the timeline which allows the characters to explore alternative actions and choices, with far-reaching consequences.
The Long Walk looks beautiful, with the yellow tones conveying the heat and humidity one might anticipate from the location during the daytime, and the night scenes are framed in sharp blues. Por Silatsa as the young boy in the story is extremely convincing as the self-sufficient yet ultimately heart-broken child. He can’t be more than seven or eight years old and is magnetic on screen – the camera gets right down to his level, letting us directly in to his world when we’re with him and making his moments of despair all the more emotional.
In essence, the film is exploring themes of spirituality, of guilt, of grief, and of regret. There are elements of a ghost story, yes, but not out-and-out horror. It definitely gets psychologically dark in places but is also contemplative and melancholy. The slow pace is meditative and draws the viewer in, allowing them to gradually come to terms with the shifting perspectives and to work out what might be happening.
With The Long Walk, Mattie Do has created a film which warrants attention. Admittedly it also demands commitment due to its slower pace and shifting timelines, but it is well worth the investment.