Seawards Journey: A little gem of a road movie

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The ‘road movie’ genre encompasses a wide range of films; there are the biker movies like Easy Rider, Motorcycle Diaries and err…Wild Hogs; there are car movies like Thelma & Louise, Bonnie and Clyde, Sugarland Express and Badlands (most invariably have a crime-based plot); there are dysfunctional family films like Little Miss Sunshine; even acclaimed Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki has made one, the cult film Leningrad Cowboy’s Go America about a fictional Russian rock band that goes to the US to become famous (the only time I have seen matching shoes and hairdos!)

The 2003 Spanish-language film Seawards Journey (El viaje hacia el mar) by Uruguayan director Guillermo Casanova is a worthy addition to the genre. A group of 5 friends, ranging in age from 40’s to 70’s, who have lived their entire lives in the same village, decide to drive to the sea. The men come from humble backgrounds – a garbage collector, a cemetery ‘manager’, an old man and his dog, a truck driver and his friend. It’s the truck driver Rodriguez who comes up with the idea and plans the trip; the friends join in with varying levels of enthusiasm. A stranger who has just arrived in town and bumps into them at the bar, impulsively decides to tag along.

Most of the film takes place in the truck as they drive to the coast, the bright red truck cab standing out against the verdant Uruguayan countryside. There is no plot, just a series of conversations and events – philosophical, insightful, wistful, ironic, or funny.

The man who works at the cemetery points out that the graves of the children (“the little angels”, as he calls them) always have the most flowers, the graves of the men also have flowers, but the graves of the women are usually bare, because the women care for the others, but no one cares for the women.

In the cab, the driver and his passenger are listening to ‘radiograms’, a message service provided by the local radio station. Messages range from the somber “Mother bad. Bring black tie” to the amusing “Warn brother-in-law, sister on the way and watch out, she knows everything”.

When the truck briefly breaks down in front of a highway billboard with a sun-bleached poster of a glamourous model, the men stare and wonder what it would be like to be in the company of such a woman.

As they approach the seaside, they drive through a resort town and are goggle-eyed at the modern city-dwellers in their skimpy clothes, fancy cars and trendy music. They experience the simple joys of eating ice cream on a sweltering day and enjoying a barbeque on the beach.

Finally at the seashore, Rodriguez asks his friends how they feel and is disappointed with their unimaginative responses; he realizes that none of them can feel the magic as he does. He walks into the water for a swim while the rest experience the moment, each in his own way.

At just 78 minutes, this is a little gem of a film which was nominated at various Latin American festivals and won the award for Best Uruguayan film from the Uruguayan Film Critics Association in 2003.

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