Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World: An incredible, feel-good hitchhiking achievement

By Jim Slotek

Rating: A

The best movie on offer this week is a documentary. It has scores of locations shot around the world on a budget barely above zero. And the “production” moved from place to place over nearly four years, mainly via hitchhiking.

An audacious project – some might say foolhardy and unbelievably risky – Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World is the chronicle of a German couple in their early 30s, Patrick Allgaier and Gwendolin Weisser, who set out from their home near the Black Forest with backpacks, camera and little else. 

It’s summer in Siberia as Gwen tries to get a lift to Irkutsk

It’s summer in Siberia as Gwen tries to get a lift to Irkutsk

Their goal: To head East by foot and return home from the West. On route, their number will increase by one with the birth in Mexico of a boy named Bruno.

They do so with mostly-unflagging humour, and an app that connects them to a network of hospitable folk in various (and often surprising) countries who offer their couches in the spirit of goodwill. They hitch from Russia through assorted “stans,” backtracking when turned back at some borders and fulfilling the odd terms of various bureaucracies (checking in at different cities, to let the authorities know where they are).

They find themselves camping out in deserts and snowy mountainous terrain, and sharing long drives with truckers who’ve been awake so long they sing to keep their eyes open. Iran turns out to be amazingly hospitable. The Pakistani police give them an escort through some of the dodgiest parts of the country as they make their way to Karachi. 

They stop in places for lengthy periods and labour for their food. Sometimes one holds the camera while the other interacts. Sometimes locals hold the camera. We discover that Mongolians do not like polenta. Camels are native to far more of Asia than you ever imagined. And the prenatal health treatment in Irkutsk is actually pretty good.

Oh yeah, and India is a bit of a drag – especially for hitchhikers.

When not hitchhiking, Patrick and Gwen travel by cargo ship, and even get ahold of a cheap VW minibus in Mexico, which allows them to pay karma back, picking up hitchhikers all through Central America. 

Through all their good cheer, it’s difficult to avoid the notion that Patrick and Gwen are achingly vulnerable much of the time. And yet, they are greeted with so much hospitality (much of it driven by intrigued curiosity) that Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World is an almost unbelievably feel-good story. The movie, edited with a lively eye to cheek, smiles and teeth, has a citizen-of-the-world vibe reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain’s best work.

This is especially true in demonized places like Iran, a country whose citizens, particularly in the cities, are worldly, and who are the inheritors of a code of hospitality thousands of years old. I’m pretty sure if the current U.S. President saw this movie, he’d conclude it was fake news.

For the rest of us, it is good news, a reminder that the world needn’t be a scary place.

Far. The Story of a Journey Around the World. Starring Patrick Allgaier and Gwendolin Weisser. Opens April 12 at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.