An aid worker travels for two whole days to reach an isolated village. The journey, involving a bus, a river taxi and many hours of walking along the edges of rice paddies, is documented by the filmmaker in long takes in which little of moment happens. The only music on the soundtrack is from a portable radio picked up by the mic. The footage includes images of the passing scenery, people dozing, or gazing vacantly into empty space, a close up of insect bites on the aid worker’s leg. There are lengthy sequences showing rain patterning the grimy bus window, of verdant, impenetrable forest bordering the river, of a member of the boat’s crew smoking a cigarette. These are interspersed with brief moments of activity, food vendors clamouring at the bus windows, a woman breastfeeding an infant, a pair of dogs copulating.
A single take lasting 8’ 44” focuses on the swirling eddies of the river’s surface, the slow, almost imperceptible changes in the light reflecting off the rippling water, clumps of floating vegetation occasionally passing right to left across the frame. In the background, the voices of passengers and crew are sometimes heard, and always the steady pitch of the engine, the slap of water. On the final leg of the journey, the camera follows the aid worker over muddy dykes, along dusty field paths, and up a stony forest track.
Some critics argue that the length of the film and the absence of obvious drama is a metaphor for the grindingly slow legal processes which surround a huge development project threatening the future of the village. The director when asked about this says the movie is long because the journey is long. None of her films, she points out, is shorter than six hours, and one runs to 11 hrs 23 mins. If the audience’s attention wanders, or they fall asleep, the director says she’s fine with that. The viewer enters the film in this way, becomes like one of the people on the hot and crowded bus, like the passengers aboard the launch. This is how life is. When the aid worker eventually reaches the village she is offered a choice of dog sausages or dog stew.