Scurrying its way through a Middle Eastern desert bisected by an oil pipeline, a strange, spider-like robot seems to be scoping the horizon. In a nondescript Detroit strip mall on the other side of the world Gordon, a hexapod drone operator and wage-slave guardian of the pipeline, surveys the scene on an array of monitors from the comfort of a desk chair. Having lost his way in a world he no longer comprehends, he becomes fascinated when he catches an infrared glimpse of Ayusha, a young woman promised to an older man she doesn’t love, while performing his nightly “rounds.” Despite the distance, their mutual fear and their imperfect interaction through a spindly, weaponized automaton, Gordon will do everything in his power to help Ayusha escape her fate, falling for her in the process.
This latest from director Kim Nguyen, whose 2012 feature War Witch earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, bends genres just as deftly as its mechanized hexapod contorts to cover unforgiving desert terrain. At once an idiosyncratic romance, a sleepy-eyed comedy and a geopolitical drama, the film becomes something other still as its scenario plays out—indeed a creeping, crawling, battery-powered foreign policy conundrum become animate. Should Gordon remain an isolationist, passive third party to Ayusha’s plight, or should he intervene in order to right an injustice? And if he does intervene, are his motivations altruistic or is he simply acting with his own selfish interests in mind? Further, can neutrality be anything more than naïve pretense when a pipeline has already disrupted the region? Bolstered by phenomenal performances from leads Joe Cole and Lina El Arabi, the film offers no easy answers in personifying a modern day catch-22 in a memorably complex and entertaining way.