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Qué Tan Lejos: The unexpected feminist film you’ve never heard of

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Qué Tan Lejos (2006, dir. Tania Hermida)

I doubt you’ve heard of Qué Tan Lejos (How Much Further), let alone seen it. It was only in unique circumstances that I stumbled upon the film myself. I didn’t know who was in it, who directed it or what it was really about. From reading the brief plot description I thought it might be an innocuous, light-hearted comedy, but what it turned out to be was something that may forever challenge my perceptions of female characters in cinema.

The film follows Tristeza (Cecilia Vallejo), a bookish Ecuadorian student from Quito, who makes an impromptu voyage to Cuenca to prevent her ex-boyfriend’s upcoming nuptials. On her way, she meets Esperanza (Tania Martinez), a chatty tourist from Barcelona, who is looking to sightsee around the country. When a workers’ strike halts the national bus services, the Spaniard decides to join Tristeza on her travels, thus beginning a long, winding journey together.

I don’t know if it says anything about me, but throughout the narrative I found myself fearing for the pair’s safety. They hitchhike their way through the various cities, and with every male driver who stops; I couldn’t help but be suspicious of their intentions. My concerns, however, were gladly never realised. At every opportunity in which they could be harassed, assaulted, or worse, nothing of the sort happens. At one moment they leave their baggage unattended in a pickup truck, and you think at the very least their possessions will get stolen, but not even that occurs.

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Further down the line, a shaggy-bearded man carrying an urn appears and introduces himself as Jesus, and I thought: ‘This is it. This guy’s the weirdo. Step away from the weirdo’. But again, nothing. In actuality, despite resembling somewhat like a tramp, he turns out to be an utter gentleman, whose wisdom greatly benefits the naive Tristeza. More situations arise in which you think trouble could befall the young women, but when it teases you with the potential of danger, it takes you in the complete opposite direction.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was so convinced something terrible would happen to our heroines, before coming to the realisation that American tales that involve women hitchhiking and travelling alone together rarely go smoothly. They suffer sexist remarks, they’re beaten, they’re kidnapped, they’re raped, they’re murdered; so to have a story in which the men treat them with the utmost respect and kindness was startlingly refreshing. ‘Refreshing’. It’s almost strange to say that it’s ‘refreshing’ to see female characters not get abused or assaulted, but the truth is: it was.

I can’t find much information about the director, Tania Hermida, so it’s difficult to say if it was her intention to challenge representation on screen or not. However, there is a moment before embarking on their journey, in which someone suggests it might be unsafe for women to travel alone, and the fact that they experience little turmoil subsequently, gives me the impression that the director knew exactly what she was doing.

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