A NoHo Arts movie review of Xenon Pictures’ “Traveling light,” a film by Bernard Rose, featuring music from Ivo Demchev, and starring Tony Todd, Danny Huston, Stephen Dorff and Olivia D’Abo running nightly at Laemmle NoHo 7 through June 16.
The newly released feature film “Traveling Light” was shot during the early days of the pandemic. Before the vaccines were available and during the first nervous manic shut down in L.A. So, it plays a lot like an apocalyptic nightmare, with the streets mostly deserted and ghost like. The film centers around one man, as lost as the rest of us, who becomes an Uber driver to prevent himself from losing his mind. He is also looking for his son, a young man with his own very real mental issues who ran away years before and is somewhere on the streets of L.A. While he drives, he encounters a select group of people on their way to a very exclusive gathering up in the Hollywood Hills. He picks them up individually, in a mysterious sequence of rides. They all seem to be a very specific type of L.A. human – rich, white, stir crazy, unable to cope with being constantly reminded of their own warped, disconnected existence. The pandemic has left them isolated, alone or forced to live exclusively amongst their own family groups and they careen quickly down the well of their own dark hearts. Being acutely susceptible to the suggestion that they are not all mewling narcissists, but worthy souls merely in need of saving, they fall prey to the strongest amongst them, a particularly unhinged and charismatic man who starts a meditation group that quickly devolves into a cult of sorts as he provides these lost lunes with the validation they so desperately seek.
Of course, it all goes horribly wrong. How could it not? However, their fate gives us a fascinating film. Shot mostly handheld, combining wide sweeping shots of the hillsides glittering in the evening sun it gives intimate portraits of these scattered souls and choppy scenes of the driver searching for his lost boy. The dirty chaotic streets below full of the homeless and the abandoned, a Mount Olympus above festooned with flowers and golf carts and busy tennis courts …and there is no irony in that.
Bernard Rose is a British filmmaker and screenwriter, widely considered to be an early pioneer of digital film and the force behind the original “Candy Man” and the brilliant “Immortal Beloved.” With “Travelling Light” he reunites with Danny Huston and Tony Todd and creates a weirdly wonderful highly observational commentary on L.A. culture. The rich and beautiful are unhinged with paper-thin souls, the poor and the homeless are the innocents. It’s like “Lord of the Flies,” with the island as a gated community.
This film has stuck with me. The imagery, the commentary, the performances so free from contrivance and boundaries. It has a very cinema verite vibe and the soundtrack, also composed by Mr Rose with cellist Jen Kuhn, is gorgeous. It ups the ante, increases the pressure, connecting our hearts to what we see. There’s also some absolutely brilliant music from Ivo Demchev. Just beautiful haunting songs, and didn’t we all have our own unique soundtrack to our own particular covid nightmare.
Overall, “Travelling Light” is the best film I’ve seen that truly captures the dichoptic dystopian trip we’ve all been on for the past two years. Especially those first frightening months where we felt that unfamiliar flush of mortality. Bernard Rose is a subtle but expressive storyteller and this film feels as if he just let go and let it happen. He threw preconceptions to the wind as it were and allowed the film to snake its way along, making itself grow and evolve and happen without constraints. The characters that populate it are ones we’ve all come across in our years in this town. The good, the bad and the very ugly. The hangers on, the iconic by chance and the ultra real. Is it any wonder that we are all in this state of perpetual triste with ourselves? This film perfectly reflects all of that. It gives no judgment, it leaves no answers, it simply allows the audience a glimpse of the other. The other lives, the other choice, the other way out. Brilliant.
“Traveling Light” is playing at The Laemmle in NoHo 7 all this week at 7.30pm each night. I highly recommend it, I really think it might become a classic L.A. movie.
Running nightly at 7.30pm through June 16.
Laemmle NoHo 7
5240 Lankershim Blvd., NoHo Arts District, CA 91601