The Movie Waffler Vashon Island Film Festival 2022 Review - TRAVELING LIGHT | The Movie Waffler

Vashon Island Film Festival 2022 Review - TRAVELING LIGHT

traveling light review
An Uber driver finds himself ferrying cult members to a gathering during the pandemic lockdown.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bernard Rose

Starring: Tony Todd, Danny Huston, Stephen Dorff, Matthew Jacobs, Olivia D'Abo, Lena Gora, Rosie Fellner

traveling light poster

Writer/director Bernard Rose reunites with his Candyman star Tony Todd for this scabrous satire of life in Los Angeles during the early days of the pandemic lockdown. Like the many films hastily put together by restless filmmakers during that unforeseen era, Traveling Light initially feels directionless and you surmise it might be yet another case of a filmmaker gathering a bunch of his mates for the sake of making something rather than sitting around in their pyjamas. But such is Rose's command that any such fears are soon dispelled as it becomes clear he has fashioned arguably the best movie to emerge from these unique circumstances.

traveling light review

Like those restless filmmakers who had to shoot something to keep their sanity, Todd's Caddy is a man driven nuts by wallowing in his apartment, his TV broadcasting an endless series of apocalyptic doom-mongering. To get out of the house he decides to become an Uber driver. While driving around the deserted streets of Los Angeles he keeps an eye out for his son, who disappeared into the city's homeless underground a couple of years earlier. As his car passes an unending stream of tents, it's clear this is a futile search.

Caddy's new job sees him engage with the rest of the film's cast, most of whom are affluent Angelinos who have fallen under the spell of Harry, a possibly sinister cult leader who broadcasts mantras every morning, and has today decided to invite a hand-picked group of his followers to attend a gathering at a mansion in the Hollywood hills. Harry is played by frequent Rose collaborator Danny Huston, so we suspect from the off that he may have dodgy intentions. It's also notable that the "guests" he invites to his gathering are a telling mix of middle-aged men and attractive young women.

traveling light review

Roaming the streets of LA with his phone in hand is Arthur (Matthew Jacobs), one of those sad people who became hall monitors during the lockdown and took a delight in exposing anyone not observing the rules to the letter of the law. After fleeing a homeless couple he filmed for the crime of standing closer than six feet together, he ends up in Caddy's car, where he learns of Harry's gathering. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to get footage of a major lockdown breach, he enters the mansion.

Traveling Light might be the key document of how we all turned a little crazy in the early days of the pandemic, and how the observation of rules became yet another battle in the ongoing culture wars. Many conservatives denied there was any pandemic at all, gleefully coughing on anyone who said otherwise, while a lot of liberals began behaving like they had joined the Gestapo, delighting in exposing anyone failing to obey the rules. Rose takes a step back and exposes both parties, with Todd's Caddy caught in the middle, a man just trying to get through another day surrounded by madness. Watching characters behave like lunatics seems fictional, but then we remember that people really did act like this back then, and some still continue to do so.

traveling light review

A pioneer of digital filmmaking, Rose is one of the few filmmakers that really knows how to create a beautiful image from zeroes and ones. Up there with the best of Michael Mann's work, Traveling Light is one of the most visually beautiful pieces of digital filmmaking I've seen. Rose finds a magical quality in the flashing neon of lockdown Los Angeles and the sun kissed hills that surround the city. Had the movie been simply another lockdown film in search of a narrative, its visuals would be enough for a recommend, but Rose keeps us hooked with a blackly comic story that plays somewhere between an Alan Rudolph movie and an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Shooting in May of 2020, Rose seems to have had the foresight to realise that some day we'd look back on that time and have a guilty laugh about how badly we behaved.

Traveling Light
 screens at the Vashon Island Film Festival on August 14th.

2022 movie reviews