“How you and I been walking along this road now? 50 years now?” an unnamed old man asks. The odd thing is the woman is speaking to, who also goes unnamed, couldn’t be much older than 20. The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) finds a decaying motorbike in the jungle where he has lived his whole life, strips and meticulously cleans the useable parts. When he sells the parts on to a street vendor, he receives payment from a mobile phone, directly to a chip in his forearm. “You still have a government-issued chip?” the vendor yells. “Ancient technology, ancient man!”
These two lines early in the film tell the audience that despite the abundant nature of the jungle setting, The Long Walk is a science fiction fantasy story with its own rules about how the universe works. The Girl (Noutnapha Soydara) serves as a link between the Old Man and a painful memory from his childhood, which unfolded in the same house where he is still living. He dilapidated house is a perfect setting for a film about the inability to let loved ones move on after they have died.
Director Mattie Do was born to Lao refugees in America, and only recently moved to Laos to become a filmmaker. It couldn’t be easy, as there is not much of a film industry in the country. Her debut film became the first Lao film to screen outside of Southeast Asia. The Long Walk is only her third film, and already looks like the work of a seasoned filmmaker. It often calls to mind Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, not only because it is a sci-fi story in a naturalistic setting, but because of the assured tone and pace of the film.