“How’s life treating you?
– We’re not talking. I don’t bother life and she leaves me alone.”
The latest Spanish dramedy featured on Netflix promises a life-changing road trip through the Sahara desert. With the likes of proficient actors Jean Reno (The Crimson Rivers, Leon: The Professional) and Hovik Keuchkerian (Assassin’s Creed) as leading stars, 4L (2019) promises to quench our thirst for a long trip with our buddies after months of lockdown and sofa-induced living.
Alcoholic and ill-mannered Tocho (Keuchkerian) snaps out of his meaningless life after learning that his road-trip buddy from the past, Joseba (Enrique San Fransisco), is critically ill in Mali. He convinces his other friend, Jean Pierre (Reno), to track down Joseba’s estranged daughter Ely (Susana Abaitua) and go on a final cathartic road trip through the unwelcoming desert in an old Renault 4 car – also known as 4L (pronounced “Quatrelle” in French). On the way there, they will have to face adversities, their inner demons, old enemies, and unexpected alliances, while hoping to survive until they reach their destination.
Although the legendary car from the 60’s and the idea of old friends reuniting sound like a good plan for an improbable trip into the wild, the plot and character development prove too weak and perfunctory. There is so much missed potential for developing relatable characters, that when the end credits start, they all seem to vanish into oblivion. Randomly meaningful interactions and moments of witty humour do occur, but they are not enough to redeem the lack of substantial dialogue and narrative.
What is undeniable, though, is the cinematography by Gonzaga Manso. It captures the majestic landcapes of the deep Sahara scenery laid between Morocco and Mali in astounding droid views. Director Gerardo Olivares, an avid traveller himself, lets his personal experience of exploring the Sahara shine through in this film, against a backdrop of folklore indie music.
The ending serves a sweet, unrushed finale to stay true to the film’s feel-good description. However, it is not enough. For the first time in cinematic history, it seems, the trip was not more important than the destination.