Film Review: Somewhere Beautiful

A conceptual exercise about the parallels between a director’s life and his work that’s as pretentious as it is turgid.
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Somewhere Beautiful was completed in 2014, but its pretentious artiness is of a distinctly mid-’90s variety. The fact that it was inspired by Atom Egoyan’s 1993 Calendar is thus no huge surprise, although its across-generations dialogue with that film will only matter to the few film moviegoers who remember Egoyan’s early critical hit—and even then, its homage is of a meaningless sort, given the enervating emptiness of this conceptual exercise.

Director Albert Kodagolian’s debut feature is a bifurcated affair comprised of two thematically linked—and equally turgid—threads. In the first, a photographer (Anthony Bonaventura) meanders about middle-of-nowhere Argentina snapping pictures of the landscape, while his girlfriend Elena (María Alche) grows frustrated with his disinterest in her, and responds by slowly developing a romantic bond with their guide (Pablo Cedrón), who speaks her language and blathers on about the area’s history. This strand plays like a spiritual shout-out to Calendar, yet no matter that connection, it remains a tireless slog in which Bonaventura’s shutterbug proves an emotionless cipher detached from everything around him (the environment, Elena), while Elena—who feels—grows closer to the wild, untamed land and its bucking-bronco-riding, knife-wielding inhabitants.

That schematic storyline is paired with a more meta one focused on director Kodagolian himself, who’s in the process of trying to make the aforementioned Argentina-set drama as his next movie. Rather than showing him at pre-production work on that project in L.A., however, Somewhere Beautiful fixates on his own separation from Rachel (Robyn Buck), the mother of his daughter, who’s up and left him because…well…it’s not clear exactly what her problem is with Kodagolian. Nonetheless, given how painfully dull he proves to be in this fictionalized half of the material, it’s easy enough to imagine she simply couldn’t stand being in his presence any longer.

Stunned by Rachel’s departure, Kodagolian hires a nanny (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) to help care for his kid, briefly winds up in bed with a neighbor, and chats about Justin Timberlake with the guy doing audio for his movie. His sequences are primarily designed to impart a sense of disconnection and ennui in tune with his film-within-a-film’s atmosphere. Rife with stilted dialogue at every turn, however, Somewhere Beautiful is so mannered that its every gesture feels phony, and its pervasive air of self-importance comes to feel almost laughably unearned as it proceeds from one go-nowhere scenario to another.

At least in Argentina, the director’s cinematography has a sunburnt beauty that almost suggests there’s some underlying substance to these characters’ oh-so-alienated plights. Alas, right up to its finale, which is as anticlimactic and affected as everything that’s preceded it, Somewhere Beautiful feels like a relic form a bygone art-house era best left in the past.

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