Certificate: 15 (advised)
Running Time: 108 mins
Director: Randal Kamradt
Starring: Dana Jamison, Nick Medina, Genelyka Castin, Leonard Olaer
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Adventure
Country: USA, Philippines

Fewer things grab my attention quicker than the combination of words independent cinema and the Philippines.  Whether it’s the Roger Corman days of American Exploitation or the National cinema glory days that came later featuring Weng Weng, Franco Guerrero and co. I have been fascinated by all things Filipino for as long as I can remember.  The sudden presence of an American/Filipino independent feature from MOnsterworks66 brought excitement and trepidation in equal measure.

Audrey (Dana Jamison) arrives in the Philippines with little money, fewer Filipino words and looking for help on her quest to reach the fabled Diwati Falls and the vast riches that are promised along with them; but when her entourage lets slip their plans they’re suddenly fending off a gang of bikers who seem hell-bent on fortune at all costs.

Faraway is most definitely a different kind of Filipino indie movie than the likes I’ve come to know, expect and love.  Randal Kamradt as writer, director and (even) cinematographer has come to this story with the sort of enthusiasm and wide-eyed zest that’s normally the reserve of children and early Spielberg cinema and it shows on screen.  Faraway may draw some comparisons to The Goonies and though these comparisons are welcome, hard-earned and justified there’s more to it than that.  As a piece of narrative cinema it’s part Goonies, part Romancing The Stones with a healthy dose myth and Disney.  The chemistry of Faraway’s narrative is a fine balance.  Too much fantasy and the gritty elements of the reality of the Philippines is overpowered, not enough and the film takes on a far-fetched bleakness that alienates young and older audiences alike (though for different reasons).  Kamradt, to his credit, gets the balance absolutely perfect to the point where it’s impossible to find an independent film made recently that delivers the same level of narrative balance.  All too often this balance is the one thing that informs on a film’s origins.  Whether it’s the re-writing process (or lack there of) or in the editing there’s always something that betrays the indie film when it comes to narrative.  But not here.  Faraway at 108 minutes is the length it needs to be to tell its stories.  The balance between fantasy adventure and rural reality is wonderfully fine and well mapped out and (if it were a dance) it has all the rise and fall required in order to make it glide effortlessly from start to finish.

Amazingly, Kamradt is just as good behind the camera as he is behind the pen as Faraway has the visual wealth of a film ten times its budget.  The Philippines is a beautiful, aesthetically rich landscape and one that Kamradt clearly knows well as he’s been able to not just showcase its beauty but has crafted a film that demonstrates the Philippines as a character in its own right within the narrative.  The colour palette of Faraway relies heavily on greens, and red –unsurprisingly both colours carry connotations that link in heavily to the text's themes of greed and danger and in doing so creates a cohesive voice between script and screen that stitches the audience wonderfully into the fabric of the movie.  Similarly, the score does an excellent job of creating a flighty fantasy while at the same time delivering earthy, realistic notes that help to marry to two realms perfectly.

There are some strong performances in Faraway from the four central characters.  Leonard Olaer (as Rey) offers up a strong and touching comedic performance as the boyfriend who can’t do right for doing wrong (as my mammy would say), he creates some wonderful moments of physicality and a relaxed, confident tone to his delivery that makes him as watchable as he is likeable.  Genelyka Castin’s (Hazel) high-maintenance girlfriend is brilliant.  In Hazel you have someone who is frustrating yet loving and though she might drive you nuts you’ll let her.  A lot of her best work is done in exploring the mythology of the narrative and character exposition and it’s to Castin’s credit that she’s able to carve out so many memorable moments on screen while digging in and doing some of the heavy narrative lifting.  Dana Jamison (Audrey) doesn’t put a foot wrong in lead position.  She’s commanding on screen, emotive, entertaining and demonstrates a level of control over her art that’s beyond her years.  This is her film in almost every respect –if it wasn’t for Nick Medina.  As chaperone and translator Medina gives to duelling performance first as slightly obnoxious/borderline on the spectrum writer and later potential love interest.  Like Olaer he has a physicality and comic timing that is naturally gifted to him and he unleashes it with a precision that’s awe-inspiring.  So many of the best moments in Faraway have his fingerprints all over them it’s difficult to see how he won’t be rocketing up the cinematic food-chain.

It’s extraordinarily hard to find fault with Faraway.  If one had to be picky (and with a film this good you really must be) you’d point out a few continuity issues relating to facial hair and some of the action choreography not being as sharp as everything else in the film.   You may even hit upon the fact that the story doesn’t stray too far for the quest formula but it’s brutally unfair to hold anything like that against a film so fantastic…in every sense of the word.

There’s a wealth of history to Filipino cinema.  Whether it’s Geraldo de Leon’s Terror is a Man or Eddie Nicart’s For Y’ur Height Only their National cinema is one of character, beauty, humour and style.  With Faraway writer/director Kamradt has added several incredible new stitches to this glorious celluloid tapestry.  A film that’s as beautiful as it is suspenseful, as vast as it is introspective and as wonderful, thrilling, charming and enjoyable to watch as anything you’re likely to see this year.  


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