This “Etude” is an excerpt from the film I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You (Viajo Porque Preciso, Volto Porque te Amo), directed by Karim Aïnouz and Marcelo Gomes, released in 2009.
Straddling between fiction and documentary, I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You is formally a road movie, but in content, it is a long elegy on love, the loss of love, loneliness, regeneration, search for self, and the loss of one’s sense of self in the search. A geologist is dispatched on an official mission to Sertão, a far-flung region in the north east of Brazil, to survey water sources and study the proposed map for water canalizations. The opening sequence of filming the road ahead, at night, recurs throughout the film and sets a cadence to this physical, geographical as well as interior journey. Through letters to his former wife, the viewer is intimated to the chronicle of the protagonist’s emotional journey, and soon after, the attributes of the natural environment begin to allegorically resonate with his interior state. The overwhelming longing, the pangs of estrangement, and the sense of loneliness are compounded by the aridity of the landscape around him. The various characters he comes across seem to embody different forms of solitude and abandonment. Some are pensive and quiet, others are sad, and others still are sex workers, poor farmers, or truck drivers. The prospect of bringing water to a semi-deserted area is itself a potent metaphor in the geologist’s life. He waivers between painful memories of marital warmth and the desire to rekindle a love lost on the one hand, and the awareness of its impossibility on the other. The scientific findings he collects along the journey thus become poetic measures of loneliness.
Geological study of tectonic structures for the construction of a canal connecting the Xexéu region with the Souls’ River. Duration of the field trip: thirty days. Fuck it! Thirty days...
I am on the BR 432, Kilometer forty-five. Altitude 450 meters. The climate is arid, the terrain tertiary. Cambrian limestone clay, composed of arenites, siltites and reddish-brown ferruginous conglomerates.
The region is called Little Meadow—though there is not a meadow anywhere in sight.
It is twelve o’ clock.
I take advantage of the mapping work to make contact with the few locals whose lands will have to be requisitioned in order to cut the canal. Nino and Perpétua will be the first to be resettled.
They have been married for over fifty years. They have never lived anywhere else, have never had a fight, have never spent one night away from each other.
Nino went out to turn off the radio, but I called him back in. I didn’t want to film them apart.
Blondie, Good Morning! Good morning, my love.
It is October 28, Civil Servants’ Day. No one is working at the department back in Fortaleza, and here I am, slogging away in the dry dirt.
Seventeen days and twelve hours to go. It seems like an eternity. Hardly a soul on the road since leaving Fortaleza.
Stopped at a gas station today and saw something kind of hippie painted across the wall. I didn’t heed any attention to it at first, but when I drove off it dawned on me what had been written there: I TRAVEL BECAUSE I HAVE TO; I COME BACK BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.
I keep the radio on, thinking of you the whole time. And that is all. I wear myself out thinking about you so much.
Driving along this road, with a romantic sunset. I remember our last sunset together, there on Praia do Futuro, in Fortaleza.
I cannot stand the thought of being alone.
This trip is taking me back; back to the day you left me.
I think about going back the whole time, but there isn’t anywhere to go back to.
Unbearable! I let on that we were still together, that we had never broken up. I started writing you letters and replying to others you never sent.
I keep the radio on, thinking of you the whole time. And that is all. I wear myself out thinking about you so much. I took this trip to try to forget that you dumped me but it has just made it worse. Just makes me remember. Endlessly.
When you said never again
Don’t call again; it’s better that way
That wasn’t exactly
What I wanted to hear you say. and you said, sharp as a knife,
I want you out of my life, that it was all insane
all so absurd...
Then out of the blue you call me up a few days later, you look me up, your voice all soft, almost formal
and you say you’ve had second thoughts that it doesn’t have to be the end
of something so right and so casual, and suddenly everything
is sent into a spin
and the one who lost can now even win.
I feel bursts of love and hate for you.
I travel because I have to.
I won’t go back, because I still love you.