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  Light Years Away Taken Under His Wing
Year: 1981
Director: Alain Tanner
Stars: Trevor Howard, Mick Ford, Bernice Stegers, Henri Virlojeux, Odile Schmitt, Joe Pilkington, Gerard Mannix Flynn, Don Foley, Gabrielle Keenan, Johnny Murphy, Gerry O'Brien, Louis Samier, Robert Vincent Smith
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: An old Russian man, Yoshka Poliakeff (Trevor Howard), has a mission to carry out, so he drives away from his tumbledown cottage and garage in rural Ireland and heads for the city where he tracks down a young barman, Jonas (Mick Ford), who is dissatisfied with his job. After visiting him at his place of work, the old fellow shows up at his flat where he receives a less than friendly welcome, but he indignantly leaves a book with the man which plants a seed of intrigue in his mind. Soon Jonas has quit his dead-end job and is setting out for the countryside, asking many of those he meets where he can find Yoshka...

Light Years Away, or Les années lumière if you spoke French, was acclaimed Swiss director Alain Tanner's first film in the English language, based on a novel by Daniel Odier one of whose other books was adapted into the cult classic Diva the very same year. This also garnered a cult following, yet not as influentially as this was stubbornly obscure in its meaning, a quasi-mystical journey for the two main characters in a world almost perversely prosaic, so much so that the more outlandish plot elements were rendered more believable by their setting in the stark Irish countryside, mostly in a junkyard location. Switzerland historically hasn't produced a huge amount of famous movie directors, and if you were unkind you'd say Tanner wasn't one either.

But he did have his fans, though poor availability of his work meant their number diminished significantly since his heyday of the seventies and eighties, which made it all the more imperative that his usually politically-charged efforts not be forgotten. In this case, it was seeing to the spiritual side of life which had caught his attention, as we are asked to fathom a series of straight-faced but undeniably odd scenes when Jonas (who is intended to be the baby of Tanner's previous movie, For Jonas Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, making this located in that point in the then-future) finally gets to encounter Yoshka and is set a few tasks which we must assume will do him good.

The film is resolutely on the side of the old buffer, because he comes across as having specialist knowledge about the big mystery of existence, and wishes to pass that on to Jonas. Quite why he picked him is another conundrum, as for every scene where he is happy to take advice and carry out one of the tasks as ordered, there is another where he throws up his hands in frustration or even has a temper tantrum in the inscrutable face of Yoshka's patented guide to life. The elderly geezer, played by Howard as if he is all too aware of what is really going on, old pro that he was, has a predeliction for birds of prey, so in the main garage building there are a selection of such beasts, starting with a vulture and an owl which he feeds regularly.

What he wishes to do is emulate them, in the manner that birds often captivate certain writers of an offbeat bent, supposedly envying their freedom to take to the skies and go where they wish accordingly. But it's not an easy transformation from earthbound bloke to soaring birdman, and at one point Yoshka is seen stumbling out of the warehouse covered in blood. No matter, all he needs is to be buried naked up to his neck in peat and the power of the ground we stand on will heal his wounds in a matter of three days; Jonas assists and lo! The old man is cured. It would be quite possible to read a lot into such sequences, and those such as the significance of the pet pig or the thunderstorm the two chaps watch as if at a drive-in one night, with snacks, but Tanner didn't give you enough information to do anything but make an educated guess as to what he was getting at. References to Icarus and Greek myth in general may provide a clue, but you could very easily enjoy the bleak weirdness and be none the wiser by the end - at least Jonas looks enlightened. Music by Arié Dzierlatka.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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