Dir: Gerardo Olivares. Spain , Bolivia , 2007. 93 mins.
14 Kilometres, which documents the woeful journey of three immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa who leave home in search of an imaginary Europe 'where no one dies of hunger', is a well-intentioned effort but seems far more comfortable dealing with the spectacular landscapes its heroes have to cross than with the characters themselves.
Reminiscent of Michael Winterbottom's This World, with Central Africa replacing Afghanistan, Olivares' picture (which won Best Iberoamerican feature at Guadalajara) seems certain for wider festival exposure but ultimately will surface on TV where its topicality should play well. Even in Spain, where the 14k of the title - the width of The Strait of Gibraltar which separates Europe from Africa - is a hotbutton issue, the film only grossed just under Euros 130,000 on release at the end of last year.
Football ace Buba (Moussa), an underpaid garage apprentice from Niger, is convinced by his older brother Mukela (Alzouma) to join a hazardous trip to Europe. And across the border in Mali, Violeta (Kanta) is desperate to escape her childhood abuser and decides to run away to a place where no one knows who she is. All three meet on a packed truck going through the Tenere desert to Algeria and Morocco, and then a boat across the final 14 kilometres separating the African coast from Tarifa in Spain.
This proves to be a wrenching odyssey, fraught with natural and man-made challenges - in particular, corrupt humans. Olivares (The Great Match) was first drawn to the subject while shooting a documentary in central Africa in 2003, hearing first-hand horrific stories involving these immigrants, many of whom die en route as the corpses on the beaches of Spain can attest. Indeed, the first half of his picture feels thoroughly researched, but once its protagonists reach North Africa the story becomes increasingly twisted to the will of the writer rather than allowed to reach a natural conclusion.
Alberto Moro's stunning images of desert landscapes are probably the film's most important asset. The incredible vision of the truck crossing vast wastelands is matched only by the dreamlike figures of the native Touaregs, who emerge out of the dunes like angels of mercy on white camels to offer succour when everything else seems to be lost. This gives Olivares the chance to present another kind of African - one who refuses to leave his homeland and cannot conceive of why others might do it.
But once this breathtaking spectacle is over, the characters aren't strong enough to carry the story by themselves. All through the second half, the script takes easy shortcuts to get them to their destination. Moussa, Alzouma and Kanta are immensely likeable although the rough edges show every time they have to display more than their natural presence on screen.
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Jose Maria Morales
Director of photography
Illiassou Mahamadou Alzouma